Saturday, 29 August 2015

Holidays, reading, sock monkeys and literacy

Being a cautious sort, I never discuss holidays until after I'm safely home, as mentioning it beforehand would feel like handing out party invitations to burglars and then worrying over whether anyone would turn up.

In contrast to the last few years, where we've just managed four days away somewhere in England, this summer we fitted in two longer holidays. One in Winchelsea and then another in Italy, where I spent a considerable amount of time sitting against the brick wall reading, while dangling my feet in the pool to keep cool in the 36 degree heat.

We stayed in a beautiful house, where each room had a different colour theme, which was deliciously bonkers and my idea of heaven. Even my husband, who normally reacts against this kind of styling, found the use of colour fascinating and as we lay in bed or lounged on the sofa we couldn't help but absorb something of an education in colour-use as we noticed all the thoughtful details that had gone into putting the rooms together. It was really lovely. We also fell in love with the small town, Spello, where we stayed, full of beautiful, narrow, hilly streets; wonderful restaurants; really friendly locals; amazing gelato; incredible views; and plenty of churches to sit in and admire the ceilings of. We took the train to another town on one of the days and a taxi to Assisi on a different day. And we finished up by spending a night in Perugia, where the highlight was walking in to this beautiful building and sitting to listen to an incredibly talented youth orchestra practising for a performance that evening. Quite magical.

My poolside reading was Graham Greene's The End of the Affair; Plainsong by Kent Haruf; and I'm still currently reading The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. I only got half way through reading All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews before deciding that although it was brilliant, it was too downbeat so I abandoned it, to return to at a later date. I also read Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, which my sister bought me as a holiday gift and it was perfect - I'm not sure whether it's to do with reading requirements subtly changing for a holiday or whether it's because life feels a bit boggy and hard in places at the moment and so I feel averse to reading anything too weighty, but when I read the Judy Blume I realised how much I was craving something with a bit more lightness and moments of joy in it and that it was a perfect holiday read. Once I was home, I packaged it up and sent it on to Spain where my sister was on a yoga retreat...but I'm unsure who will end up getting to read it as it's still yet to arrive and my sister is now back in England. I hope someone opens it and enjoys it and forgives me for resting the the book on my stomach to read while wearing a slightly damp post-swim bathing costume and so leaving the pages looking slightly wrinkly.

Now that we're home, we've been spending the last days of the summer holidays seeing friends, baking and both of my children have also been sewing sock monkeys, which are very joyful creatures. We have been amused that although each monkey starts off with an identically sized sock, the finished size varies hugely depending on the personality of the maker. I'll show you the finished monkeys in a different post as one of them still needs ears.

Karen from Did You Make That? has launched a sewing pledge drive in aid of The National Literacy Trust and, at the time of writing, the fund has already exceeded its target at 215% of the initial amount having been met. While I'm not overly committed to pledging to make something (I have a freaky aversion to deadlines, even self-imposed ones, so I chose something that's not truly a sewing project and that I'm making lots of at the moment anyway - more on that in another post!), it seemed a really good excuse to make a donation as I do feel absolutely passionate about childhood literacy and have seen firsthand the incredible difference that can be made to a child's outcomes when they have access to the right support.

I hope you've had a lovely, sunshiny August,
Florence x

Ps. Head over to Quilt Now for a feature on different basting methods for EPP.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The flies-on-the-windscreen top

I made this on Saturday night after returning from a week's holiday. It's the much-later-spawned-unoriginal-twin of a gorgeous top that I spotted in Adrianna's Instagram feed. The date on Adrianna's photo tells me that I somehow first saw her t-shirt 65 whole weeks ago, which means that while time has flown, the Liberty/jersey stripe combo has stuck to my brain like a fly to a windscreen* for over a year. Adrianna used a different Liberty print, but combined it with this exact stripe (which is now available in the UK for those who want to take the mustard-striped baton and run with it - we could have a dressmakers' uniform! [Sorry, Adrianna...I'll stop now. Please forgive me for stealing your beautiful idea and then suggesting we uniformise it. That is a dreadful idea].

On the matter of the mustard jersey, I have long-admired the knits I've seen from Girl Charlee, so was completely delighted when I spotted that they'd opened a UK online shop a few weeks ago! The mustard jersey above is slightly more stable than I usually like to use (not because I like to perversely  challenge myself while sewing with knits, but because sometimes a very stable jersey can mean you sacrifice on the drape a little). However, they have lots of other drapes and weights to keep me happy on that front. Last night, I made a top from this fabric, which seems almost identical to the fabric I made this top from, photo below. It's fine, soft, semi-sheer and has the most incredible drape. I also have a sample of this fabric and it's top of my wish list - a really similar light drape, but less sheer and a gorgeous colour that would work well for going into Autumn (I know it's August, but it seems to be hurrying along so rapidly that I'm already thinking about the cooler weather).

Staying on matters jersey-related, thank you so much for your lovely responses to my Tilly & the Buttons giveaway post. Courtney, please get in touch and I'll send Tilly your details! Courtney said: I loved this post. It was like a trip down memory lane. I read it because I had just seen these patterns, have a few in an online shopping cart, but was delighted to find all of the book discussions too. I loved Judy Blume (just started Unlikely Event), Beverly cleary, Francine pascal, e.b. white but my favorites were Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery. Fave book was a Little Princess which I acted out in my dollhouse for years. I was probably as flummoxed by the British terms in that as you were by khakis and mayo.

We went away with family and friends last week and possibly picked the worst week weather-wise in the last three months (although we still ended up playing cricket or rounders on five days out of seven). However, the heavy rainfall and enormous sofas were very conducive to reading and I tore through To Kill a Mockingbird, a book choice prompted by my father referencing Atticus Finch several times when we went out for a drink one evening a few weeks ago. I absolutely loved it. Similar to Kathryn Stockett's The Help, I found it a curious but wonderful thing to read a novel centred around challenging subjects that simultaneously has the feeling of being a warm cocoon of a book.

I then read In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume's latest book, a fictional story based around the three plane crashes that did really happen in 1950s Elizabeth, New Jersey. My sister had bought us both a copy before we knew we'd be going away together and I loved reading in tandem (the last time we did this was in 2011 on a plane home from Russia together) and it was comforting that both of us had a little bit of the book left to read so that even once the holiday was over we stayed in the same place mentally for a while longer. We both really loved this book, although it's not the best one to read before flying, so I'd save it for after a summer holiday if you're considering buying or borrowing a copy.

While we were away, staying just outside Winchelsea, we visited Dungeness twice. I'd never been before and found it completely fascinating. It's classified as Britain's only desert and has a barren bleakness that seems more characteristic of parts of America than anything I'd ever seen here - perhaps because there's a sense of there being a rare excess of flat space, less often found on our small island.

Dungeness is part beach, part desert, part wasteland and home to both ramshackle houses and cutting edge design. Sculptures are carefully created from things scavenged from the shoreline and sit alongside well-tended, but wild, gardens. It's a place that has the feel of wilfully mismatched crockery - a thing which you instinctively love or loath, but in this case, I really loved it. And just like crockery, if it's mismatched enough, it ends up somehow feeling cohesive and even the abandoned shipping containers felt like a valid part of the landscape. There are few boundaries and we walked around with a sense of utter curiosity about the estate's inhabitants: were they mainly recluses or creative geniuses (or both?); was there a strong sense of community or did people move there to be alone? Could you just build a house anywhere and how did they define the boundaries of the land?

These were two of my favourite houses.

Oddly, the day after we arrived home, my mother-in-law rang us to let us know that there was a programme on television featuring some of the houses in the Dungeness Estate and so we were able to find out a little more.

If you're ever in the area and you haven't already visited, I really recommend going!

I hope you're having a lovely week whether you're working away still or off on summer holidays,
Florence x

* For clarity: my husband asks what on earth I mean by flies sticking to a windscreen and says that this has never happened to him and that he doesn't believe this is a common phenomena that others will understand. You possibly have to have met with a plague of flies while driving through the Australian outback to see the highly-adhesive way in which they can stick to a windscreen on impact, but I have a memory from childhood of looking on in horrified disbelief as the bloodshed and bodies collected to gradually obscure my father's vision of the road. Once you've seen such a thing, you will understand the true sticking-power of a fly (or similar flying insect - I was about 7 years old, so can't be held responsible for recalling the exact type of flying bug). I'm unsure why the fly-windscreen analogy came into my head while writing this post, especially when Adriana's top was a very welcome thing that stuck in my head and no blood was lost in the making of the top, but it now seems to have dominated the post, so it may as well make it into the post title (I wonder if other people who write a blog also have a very specific order that they do things in? My order is invariably photos, writing and then finally a title. I'm almost incapable of writing until I have one photo on the screen, even if it's unrelated to what I'm writing about. Kelly, one of my lovely sponsors, once asked me about a 'blog post schedule' and I realised that it's rare that I know when or what I'm going to write about until I've opened a window to compose a new post).
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