Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hand-sewing with Rouenneries Deux


Twitter and Instagram have fitted in better with the bite-sized pieces of time that are currently on offer during the summer holidays, so I've shared several photos of sewing progress there, but I realised that I'd completely forgotten to mention this project here on my blog, which feels odd as it's the sole focus of all my sewing attention at the moment.
 

When I first saw French General's Rouenneries Deux range my love for it was almost instant and it caused me to make a rare impetuous purchase. I saw it late on one of the last few evenings before the schools broke up and early the next morning I persuaded my husband to skip work for a few hours and come on a jaunt through the countryside with me to my nearest stockist of the range. His presence, as well as being lovely, was essential as I have no sense of direction and consequently can only drive unaccompanied within a five mile radius of our house without ending up lost and weepy in a farmer's field. When we eventually buy a car with SatNav installed it will be a very liberating thing indeed (although I've heard that can mistakenly lead you into farmer's fields too).

In my head this fabric falls within the category of 'old lady' fabric, although recently my eighty-four year old grandmother said to me 'goodness, no, I don't like that skirt at all - it looks like something an old lady might wear', which would suggest that such a term can sometimes be used in a derogatory way, but that's not the way in which I view old ladyism. I think what I actually mean is that the fabric feels traditional* and sober in a way that I adore - it feels as though it has its roots in history and as though its loveliness is timeless. When I think of this old lady I imagine soft, rose-scented powdery cheeks which beg to be kissed; a hand-held looking glass and crystal perfume bottles with puff-spray atomisers laid out on a dresser;grey hair swept up in an elegant bun; and vintage dresses hanging from a picture rail. This is the fabric my archetypal old lady would be drawn to. I have only met her a couple of times in my life. Once at a wedding as an eighteen year old where she sparkled at my dinner table, outshining youth with her beauty, another time as a seven year old, when my sister and I warned her that there was a nest of bees on the grass verge that may sting her and her small dog and she invited us to visit her for tea after school. My sister and I sat in her front room drinking cordial from beautiful glasses, before my mother told us that evening that it wasn't safe to go and visit the homes of strangers.


My husband said that the fabric reminded him of the type of thing you might find on one of the beds at Knole. Lacking our own four poster bed this quilt is intended for the room seen above, where it will increase its redness. This strange corridor of a room in the middle of our house has no name and occasionally when trying to tell someone where they may locate their missing sock/book/marble I refer to it as The Red Room, which both me and my daughter have agreed never feels quite right as we both instantly think of Jane Eyre who was sent to The Red Room by the punitive Mrs Reed for imagined misdemeanours. You can see the fabrics laid out on the chair in the photo above - I love how well they blend in with the colours.


I later supplemented this initial purchase with some further cuts from Hulucrafts as some of the skinny quarters I'd bought didn't allow me to centre the flowers on the medallions that feature at the middle of this quilt.


Because this quilt is being made by hand, I haven't noticed spending any huge lengths of time working on this quilt. It's slowly come together during an hour at the park, a few minutes sat in the car waiting to go in to an appointment, whilst watching a film with my children or during an evening sat in the garden with my husband. I love that a quilt can just grow out of one's everyday life.


I have plans for two more English paper piecing projects: one for my daughter's birthday, the other to be hung in the dining room on the wall. I am finding this hand-sewn piecing oddly refreshing. I have never been able to sit still long enough to easily watch films, but the engagement of hand stitching has opened up a whole new world of relaxation and my husband has signed me up to Netflix where I can watch endless films (while he is out at his endless cycle of evening sporting commitments) instantly through our wireless connection for only a little over £5 a month. My current viewing choices have a distinctly low-brow feel to them and centre around romantic-comedies that leave me feeling dizzily happy! One can safely assume there is a healthy dollop of saccharine American love story sewn into this quilt, as well as the happy reality of my own summer.
 
Florence x
 
* In fact the fabric is indeed traditional. French General's Rouenneries collections are based on red florals that were printed in Rouen in the 18th century.

Ps. The pattern I'm using for this quilt is another from Brigitte Giblin's book, Feathering the Nest.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Festival of Quilts 2012


This weekend I went up to Birmingham NEC to explore the Festival of Quilts. It's reputedly the largest quilt festival in Europe and is an equal mix of quilt related exhibition and shopping. For me, it's both expensive and time-consuming to get to, but having been once I can now see that it will almost certainly become an annual treat for me.

Quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth

It's rare to return home from a day that involves nearly seven hours of commuting feeling invigorated, but somehow I did. I'm desperate to show you photographs of the quilts entries being exhibited, but as they were being judged the maker's names weren't shown and it doesn't feel right to post uncredited pictures. But it was delicious. The quilts were a sea of different textures, colours, patterns and sizes, meaning that the eyes and brain were constantly buzzing, unable to become weary from looking at row upon row of quilts. I especially loved the ones made of tiny, intricate pieces; the reproductions of quilts first made hundreds of years ago; and those that used a variety of fabrics to produce a tactile work that made you desperate to touch it. It's odd how instinctive is the need to touch, rather than merely look at, a quilt, but I satisfied my hungry fingers by pointing a camera at them instead.

Close up of quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth
One of the highlights of the festival for me was seeing Brigitte Morgenroth's quilts, which were breathtakingly lovely. Now in her late seventies, Brigitte has amassed an inspiring body of work, created predominately in silk and satin, fabrics which have an iridescence and playfulness which softens her geometric, structured use of colour and shape, resulting in my idea of quilty perfection.


Quilt by Brigitte Morgenroth

Exhibition aside, the list of stands at the festival was fantastic. My absolute highlight being the Quilt Mania stand, publisher of the eponymously named magazine and a select collection of quilting books produced in both French and English.

The Quilt Mania stand

I have lost countless hours to their website pondering over which books to buy and get shipped over from France, so to be able to flick through them in person, meet their lovely and enthusiastic publishers and leaf through the magazines was wonderful. I showed much restraint and purchased two books and three magazines, but the wishlist is long. The books are so utterly wonderful (I stayed up for much of the night studying them as I couldn't sleep) that they merit a post of their own, so I won't discuss them further here.


As well as Quilt Mania (in truth, they could have been the only stallholder and my day would have been complete) I had also been keen to see the much talked of Oakshott fabrics which are shot with different colours on the warp and weft. Their standard shot cotton is very similar to Kaffe Fassett's plain shot cottons, although perhaps with more body and a little more of a sheen (Kaffe's feel very soft and unstructured). They had a beautiful pastel set that it occurred to me afterwards would look amazing interspersed with soft Liberty print fabrics, but I chose a bundle from their range of more iridescent fabrics named Ruby Red, each colour shot with the same ruby red warp.


I have several ideas for them and I may combine some with this beautiful Liberty print which I picked out to match them. I had been wondering whether the Oakshott range of rubies was prone to fray as it is so similar in appearance to silk, but the Oakshott people assured me not. I'll let you know how I find them, as I've heard others say they are prone to fray and it's nice to know what to anticipate (on both of these instances of making silk quilts I found that either using a light iron-on interfacing or cutting them with a pinking blade in my rotary cutter solved any issue of fray).

I had also been keen to try out some Aurifil thread. Unfortunately the Aurifil stand was only selling it in large collection boxes, which seems like rather an investment if you're not convinced that the thread is superior in any other way than that it's fronted by Alex Veronelli, whose Twitter posts are so frequently amusing that his threads stick in your mind (the fact that he recently shared with his followers that an automatic toilet had flushed before he'd finished using it may have meant that I was smirking slightly when I spoke to him). However, I eventually found a single reel of Aurifil at Cotton Patch's stand. I'd also invested in some of Clover's popular Black/Gold needles too, so when I arrived home last night I decided to first try out the needles with my usual thread and then the Aurifil while I was doing some paper piecing, so that I could see where any marked difference may be coming from. Perhaps it's because you quickly become used to the needles that you regularly sew with, but the black/golds were no discernibly better than my usual Clover needles and felt as though they were dragging slightly. Mmmm. However, when I switched over to the Aurifil thread I was immediately impressed. When I'd asked Claire that morning about what it was that made Aurifil different from other threads she'd said: it just feels really nice when you're hand-sewing with it. She'd had a dreamy expression on her face when she said it. I was left wanting more. How was it nice? My own answer now, is that it just is (typed with dreamy facial expression) and I'm not sure why. It goes through the fabric easily and feels sort of buttery, a bit like Anna Maria Horner's voile slipping through your fingers. That sounds like a pervy thread moment though, so I'll stop there.


Next, meet Alice, of Backstitch - I was delighted to finally do so. Her stand looked beautiful and within the context of the festival felt completely unique - it was the only stand I saw selling some of the more contemporary ranges, such as Cloud 9's Simpatico. She also showed me the rainbow of linen which she's now stocking after I'd admired her quilt of purples, reds and blues that you can see to the left of the photo on the wall. It's beautiful and gives a completely different, heavier feel to a quilt. As a teenager I had a very amusing boyfriend who once, upon seeing my mother wearing a linen dress, cheekily remarked: Oh Mrs B! Delightful. Linen: so cool on your skin in the summer and providing of so much warmth in the winter. I thought of his observations when I saw Alice's quilt...it sounds like its properties may be excellent for blanketry as well as clothing.

Fabrics from Petra Prins of Holland, bought at the quilt festival

Finally, I was given a copy of The Quilter by the Quilters' Guild of the British Isles just as I was leaving. I was already aware of them as I've recently been stalking the online collection archives of their Quilt Museum and Gallery based in York (they have some amazing quilts, which I'd love to go and see at some point). I read their magazine on the train home. It looked rather dry, but it was full of well-written, interesting articles by people with a genuine love and enthusiasm for quilting and all that surrounds it. Both by the Guild and several times at the festival it was expressed how lovely it was to see 'a young person' interested in quilting and what a worry it was for older quilters keen to keep alive the skills and knowledge they're so keen to pass on. This surprised me. Firstly, to be described as 'young': within the bubble of the internet, it seems as though quilting is an interest beloved and very much embraced both by my generation and the subsequent one. Secondly, because sewing is currently undergoing such a revival, it always amazes me that anyone would worry over its health. However, in the context of the festival, I did feel like one of the younger ones and it made me wonder if my impression of the average age of the quilting population is skewed. In the 1990s Barbara Bailey (a Guild member) left her estate to the Guild and over a decade later, the collection they had amassed was moved to a permanent home in York where it could be viewed by visitors. However, visitor predictions fell far short of their expectations and the Guild recently faced the idea of giving up the premises due to the shortfall in income (it's since been given three years' respite). I was surprised to read this - looking at their collection online it's an impressive one that would merit my hurling myself north again had I not spent all my money at the quilt festival. What do you think?

Florence x

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Tessellations

Tessellations block in Liberty prints

Over the last few weeks I've spent much of my time working on various hand-pieced projects in tandem. This one, which is based on Brigitte Giblin's 'Tesselations II' pattern, has now reached a fork in the road where I need to decide what to do with it. So I thought I'd share my conundrum here, in the hope that you might offer your opinions.

10-001

When I began work on this pattern, I decided that the small-scale Liberty prints I wanted to use wouldn't work or allow for fussy-cutting the prints (isn't fussy-cutting the most hideous phrase), so I massively reduced the scale of the pattern pieces. I'm really pleased with the way that this has worked, but it does mean that it's a great many inches away from being anything approximating the size of a quilt like the one you can see in Brigitte's book above.

MIniature progress tessellations block in Liberty prints

Brigitte's pattern is so beautifully designed that with every new round of pieces added, a different outline is produced and each could serve as a block within a quilt in its own right and I may actually make something doing just that at a later date.

Miniature Tessellations block in Liberty prints

This is the stage which I'm now at and adding the final pieces will give a finished block that looks like the picture below (the pieces in that photo are unsewn and simply pinned in place on a foam board).

Miniature Tessellations

If I add the final pieces then I will probably frame it in an old wooden frame and hang it in the dining room. In many ways I quite like this idea. It will remain true to Brigitte's original pattern (albeit in miniature) and will be a daily reminder of my first English paper piecing project that made me truly happy (as opposed to this one which I found less satisfying). The care and hours that have gone into this, the happiness and delight in working within an area of sewing new to me, learning about pattern and colour from studying the work of someone so incredibly talented, all make it feel worthy of a place on the wall.

Miniature Tessellations block in Liberty prints with, um, me.

Planning, trialling different prints, and wrapping the papers for this took two days. As my family sat glued to the first few days of the Olympics, I sat crouched on the floor of the living room with a mess of pins of fabric pieces surrounding me. It was a really happy time and each night when the others had gone to bed, I stayed up until the early hours unable to sleep in my excitement to finish my mock-up of the pattern. The photo above was taken very early in the morning after I'd finally completed it. I rarely (barr modelling the clothes I've made) have my photograph taken with something I've made...but rather like a proud two year old who has spelt her own name correctly for the first time, I wanted my photograph taken with this. I was yet to get dressed, my hair is what my mother and father would affectionately refer to as being similar to a pan scrubber (due to its dense knotted texture!) and my eyes like dark hollows from my lack of sleep, but I like the photograph because it reminds me of my elation at having finished (not, the sewing, just the planning - the pieces were just pinned to the board at that stage).

Miniature Tessellations block in Liberty prints

I've enjoyed working on this so much that I'm tempted not to add on the corner pieces that turn it into a square block, but to continue adding pieces as before, working in rounds, radiating out from the centre until it has grown into a quilt. As I've now reached the end of Brigitte's pattern, due to my making it in miniature, this would mean that from here on in I was improvising with both the pattern pieces, colour scheme and probably many other things that I haven't yet contemplated and although I have ideas as to how I can do this, I also feel slightly worried that I may ruin something that I'm currently really happy with.

What do you think - a framed block or a quilt? The closer I've stitched to this point, the more confused I've become by what to do and I've now reached a paralysis point. I would love some input.
Florence x

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Finally: a sundress and some sun


This photo was taken just before we went away to Italy. I am now exactly one shade browner than the delectable shade of Wimborne White (shade 239 on the Farrow and Ball paint chart) which is my usual year-round skin colour seen in evidence here. You may remember that a few months ago I interviewed my lovely and very talented online-friend, Christine Haynes, about her new sewing patterns. When Christine was passing through Japan on her way to Paris for the summer, she chose some fabric for me and sent it along with the patterns when they were released last month. It was an unexpected and completely delightful package to unwrap and I was incredibly touched that she'd though of me when she was on her holidays (I did very nearly jump on the Eurostar to meet her in person but two small children who needed collecting from school prevented me. Perhaps next year).


Once the parcel arrived it began to rain relentlessly and I dispiritedly wondered if I would have to wait until next year to make a sundress (just as I'm not capable of buying summer clothing on a rainy day, I'm not capable of sewing it in those conditions either). However, in a brief moment of respite, when the sun shone for approximately four and a half hours, I broke open one of the patterns and set to work making the Derby dress.


My measurements were all over the place on the back of the envelope and while my top half fitted a size 0, my waist was a size 2 and my hips a size 4, bringing to mind a vision of a human triangle (the pattern's measurements aren't odd by the way - my bottom half is just bigger than my top half). However, Christine advised me to follow my chest size and make the size 0 as she told me that the dress has lots of volume in the lower half. It was excellent advice as it's an absolutely perfect fit across the bust.


Before I began I felt slightly trepidacious about how I would make any changes to something with princess seams both front and back, but actually, it's incredibly easy to slice a little bit off each of the eight vertical seams which give the dress its fantastic swingy shape to achieve just the fit you're hoping for. I ended up shaving over six inches off the skirt seams as I didn't want the dress to be quite so full (as I'm only 5ft1). The shape was a complete surprise and the photos don't quite convey just how swingy this dress is - it's what I think of as a trapeze dress and it was a complete delight to see the shape unfold as I sewed the many panels of the dress together. Even with several inches of fullness removed it has retained the essence of this and it's lovely.


For those not familiar with princess seams as anything more than a visual line within an piece of clothing: a brief explanation. Unless a garment is loose-fitting or cut to flatter a more gamine figure, you'll often find a dart coming from the side seams to make a garment fit the bust and curves nicely. A princess seams, however, are vertical seams running down the front of the garment (and in this case the back too) and the pattern designer will have swung the usual side-seam dart into this vertical seam, meaning that it will fit your curves perfectly, but the seam will look like an attractive style line, rather than a functional dart. All you really need to know is that the end result is that princess seams tend to be very flattering and replace the need for sewing darts.


The dress slips on over the head, with no fastenings or zippers to negotiate, making it a simple and enjoyable pattern to sew together. The dress can be worn belted or loose and when belted it has quite a sweet, prim look, while worn loose it has a definite sixties feel. I wore it unbelted over a halterneck swimming costume around the pool on holiday. The cotton lawn that Christine sent for me was perfect for the Derby dress and I loved how the yellow flowers trailed down from the ruffle across the dress (that was an accident, rather than any cleverness on my part).

The only thing to note with this pattern is that the triangular notches (the markings that help you line up one seam with another) are on the outside of the cutting line, rather than the inside. I remember my pattern cutting teacher telling me earlier in the year that this is the standard way that notches should be marked within the industry, but if you're used to commercial patterns you may have come across this less. If I was making this again, I'd mark on the notches beforehand as there's a 5/8" seam allowance that can cope with notches being cut into it and, in my impatience to get the dress finished before the sun disappeared, I found them a little fiddly and time-consuming to cut around.

If you'd like to make a Derby dress yourself you can find the pattern at Backstitch in the UK or Europe (or from Christine's shop if you're not). It's a wonderfully versatile pattern (one version of the pattern features a Peter Pan collar which you can see Christine playing around with here or see her looking adorable in the finished version she made while on holiday in Paris here) and the fact that it's loose-fitting and without fastenings makes me think the unbelted version would also be a wonderful pattern for a nightdress if made up in something like one of Anna Maria Horner's unpatterned voiles.

Florence x


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Talking Italian


Last week we went to Lake Garda in Italy: our first sunny holiday for fifteen years (the last being a week in Turkey during our first year at University when we both decided that we loathed pool holidays. But with each passing year my longing for a sun lounger has grown a little, until this year it reached desperation levels). We stayed in a little town on the lakeside named Salo. My paper piecing came with me. For the first four days it stayed in its bag, until I had acclimatised to dipping in and out of the pool, baking my limbs in the sun, eating frozen yogurt twice daily and feasting on huge mozzarella and tomato salads. I had almost forgotten about it, until suddenly it felt just the right thing to use my sunhat as a bowl and sit poolside stitching pieces together.


Salo was beautiful, but my family teased me that this was just the first stop on Florence's World Tour of Supermarkets, for it was Italmark that really captured my heart. I love foreign supermarkets. The delight of seeing aisle upon aisle of exciting new biscuits, sun-warmed and misshapen vegetables, and curious breakfasting possibilities somehow makes me feel impossibly happy. Being vegetarian makes for a particularly enjoyable game of hunt-the-meat-substance on any ingredients lists and it's nice to feel one's Italian vocabulary of obscure food stuffs growing with each visit. I made a highly controversial deviation from my usual puritan breakfast of greek yogurt and instead treated myself to a vanilla yogurt with an upper layer of sweet and gelatinous (but gelatine-free!) lemon mousse that melted in my mouth. When I woke this morning without it to look forward to I felt rather bereft. I made a point of fitting in a trip to Italmark each day and on the final afternoon my husband photographed me outside the shop for posterity (and he says to officially record the first stop on the tour).


We played a point-scoring game as to who could speak the most Italian words during the holiday - my little boy won on the grounds of speaking with adorable enthusiasm, the most authentic accent and not an ounce of self-consciousness and so was permitted to do some biscuit choosing from the shelves of Italmark on the final day as his reward. My husband and I had downloaded an app for our phones which helped with phrases and pronunciation. I was delighted to find a section covering dating and enjoyed confusing my husband with phrases enquiring as to whether he'd like to go to a nightclub with me (Andiamo in un locale!), complimenting him on his handsomeness (sei molto bello!) and more surprising phrases which I was amused to find in an app clearly intended to supply only the basics needed to get by.


Salo is beautiful, with an incredibly long promenade flanked by elegant gelato cafes and pizza restaurants, and backed by a mish-mash of narrow, house-crowded streets.


And windows holding cats.


We walked for hours every day and time was punctuated by gelato stops and finding shade. I took few clothes but, humiliatingly, my family did count ten pairs of shoes lined up beneath my chest of drawers. This pair was my favourite and most-used.


Today, as well as the yogurt and lemon mousse, I am missing the pool. I asked my husband if he might like to dig out the garage to make our own indoor version. He said no, but he's such a restless creature that I'm hoping if I leave a spade out on the patio he might suddenly set to work on it one day.

On the way home from the airport we took a diversion to see some friends and got lost in tiny country lanes. As we bristled the car side with brambles to pass by a rare car coming in the opposite direction, I felt unexpectedly elated to be back in England: people smiled, mouthed thank you and acknowledged other signs of life, where in Salo I had been stunned by how cold and unsmiling people were. Their reserve isn't characteristic of other parts of Italy and felt quite shocking. One day we took a ferry across the lake to Lazise, a more commerical lake-side town, where we were rewarded with smiling inhabitants and little shops selling nick-knacks which delighted the children - they bought turtles with pleasingly wobbly heads.


My own head also feels pleasingly wobbly for having had a lovely, sunshiney break.

Florence x

Friday, 3 August 2012

A quilt of yellows


Whilst I was taking photos of this quilt last week a bee landed on my bed of cornflowers* almost directly in front of the camera's lens, offering itself up for an impromptu portrait and very kindly refraining from stinging me while it was taken. It's actually my favourite photo of the quilt, even though it only shows a little of it, as it feels so perfectly summery and oddly pertinent, for everytime my friend has signed her text messages 'B x', I have always mentally read it as 'Bee x', perhaps because of my wish to creaturise the people close to me.


At the start of the week before the summer holidays began I made my friend a Thea's Puzzle quilt as a birthday gift. You may remember that I made one here in shades of blue silk-cotton. I've always loved this quilt and its smaller size means that it drapes easily over the arm of a sofa and gets used more frequently, so I decided to reuse the pattern (which is by Amy Butler).

My friend has recently redecorated several rooms in soft shades of yellow and her sitting room is sunny and warm, so I was naturally drawn to making her quilt in similar shades. Sometimes though, it can feel like an imposition to launch my own taste in print and pattern onto someone else's home, so I chose solid fabrics and the only print was a flower cut from Heather Bailey's Nicey Jane range which I appliqued to the quilt patch on the back.


I've always loved choosing colours from the Kona colour chart and am often swayed by their names. However, unable to wait for fabrics to arrive, for this quilt I used Moda's Bella solids as the range is sold locally. I had to satisfy myself by making up names for the colours as I cut and sewed them together: freshly churned butter; lemonade; marigold; sunshine; buttercup; creamery; and egg yolk. I don't think I'm actually able to tell a difference in quality between the two fabrics, although I think that the shrinkage on the Moda is greater. I chose to wash the quilt once it was made as giving a quilt to someone unwashed can often make the recipient worry that they've somehow 'broken' the quilt after the first wash, so transformed is its appearance. Although the increased shrinkage means that it's a slightly smaller quilt than intended, it left it deliciously crinkly, soft and puffy, which seems a good trade off.


As the piecing of the quilt is relatively hard and abstract, I chose to free-motion the quilt with seaweed stitching in an attempt to soften the lines, as my friend's tastes, like mine, tend to be more traditional.


Free-motioning this quilt unveiled a curious discovery for me. As I worked I felt that the quilting was noticeably easier to control than usual and it was only when I came to replace the first empty bobbin that I realised I'd forgotten to drop the feed dogs and that this was responsible for the difference. I hadn't realised it was even possible to free-motion with the feed dogs up, but it very much is, and I found it so much more enjoyable. Just in case you want to experiment with it too, as a guide I had the tension set to 2 and the stitch length to 0 and I used a free-motion darning foot with a 90/14 needle (I use a slightly sturdier needle for quilting as it tends to put more pressure on it).


Even with the thick wadding inside (I used organic bamboo wadding) when you hold this quilt up to the light, it looks a very different colour as the sun streams through, reminding me of glassy boiled sweets.


I like sewing for friends, especially ones who you know will embrace stray cat hairs...the cat seemed to sense this and padded around me as I took photos.


I embroidered the quilt patch on my sewing machine using a tiny satin stitch and the message bears our own idiosyncratic way of sending love and good wishes.


While I was making this quilt my friend and I were both rushing around in an end-of-term flurry of activity and she texted one day to say that it felt like we'd barely seen one another. Oddly, it didn't feel that way at all to me. The entire time I'm making a quilt for a specific person they seem to drift in and out of my mind with snippets of conversation presenting themselves from nowhere. So while she hadn't seen me, I felt like I had scarcely been out of her company, having relived several lovely sparkly evenings and many happy hours of giggling and conversation as we've watched our children play.


We gave my friend her birthday gift over dinner this week and I made a cake covered with yellow roses. It's odd how some years I feel compelled to make a big effort for a birthday and then, quite inexplicably, will let a big round-number birthday pass with only a card and a cuddle. I think I prefer it that way though. A few weeks ago an unexpected package arrived for me from Amazon. My first feeling was horror: do I order so many things from Amazon that I can't even remember what it is that is meant to be arriving? But when I opened it, I found inside a hardback copy of  Equal of the Sun sent as a gift from a friend, having both enjoyed the last bookby Anita Amirrezvani. It made me realise how much I love unexpected gift-giving: it makes me feel throughly loved everytime I notice the book sitting on my shelf waiting to be read.

Florence x



* My bed of cornflowers was mocked for several weeks by all who saw them. In my immaturity as a new gardener I refused to thin out the stems as they grew, until they were a massive tangle of greenery, standing at well over a metre tall, completely devoid of any flower heads. However, finally, they have suddenly bloomed and they are glorious. I see this mass of blue as defiant loveliness in the place of what was once named 'mummy's insane bed of towering weeds' which threatened to block out the light from the courgettes and squashes growing in their shadow in the neighbouring bed. My grandmother visited last week and squealed with delight over them. I cut some for the vase I'd bought for her and photographed her standing behind them (she is even littler than me, so their height frames her face wonderfully!).