Monday, 25 March 2019

A Miscellaneous Assortment

When my children were small they used to call a fruit salad a 'fruit medley', which they'd pronounce med-el-eee in deliciously lispy voices. There's something lovely about that stage when children are trying on words that are too big for them - I always remember my son's first time using the word 'actually' in conversation when he was about two and just wanting to gobble him up because it sounded so ridiculously oversized coming from his mouth.

I probably prefer the word 'assortment' to medley now...medley is a sharper sounding word, while assortment has connotations of liquorice allsorts and a cosy feeling of oddment. Miscellany is a good one too - that makes me think of tiny boxes with curiosities inside. But whatever the term, this blog post is pure medley/ assortment/ miscellany/ jumble, so I hope you have a good root around and find something you like in here.

I recently read Every Note Played, by Lisa Genova - it's about a concert pianist's descent into ALS, a condition that takes away the power of movement over one body part at a time, eventually leaving the sufferer locked in. I'm not sure how the novel managed to avoid being thoroughly depressing, but somehow it did, even though I cried my way through many parts of it. It did a brilliant job of exploring the relationships of the dying man and his estranged family in a way that felt real and unsentimental, as well as giving insight into a condition I knew little about. I'd recommend it.

A friend recently recommended the series After Life with Ricky Gervais and my husband and I started watching it with our children last night. The language is quite shocking (including that very worst of words beginning with C, so be warned as that may mean it's not for everyone), but if you can get over that, it's painfully funny and also incredibly touching. I cried my way through the first four episodes (there's a theme here), interrupted only by clutching my stomach because I was laughing so much. It's about a man (played by Ricky Gervais), whose wife has recently died, and explores his cantankerous interactions with the world in the aftermath. His relationship with his dog is really touching, and the humour is dark, but quite delicious (for want of another photo to illustrate this post with, the mention of the word dog has prompted a photo of Nell).

We have frequent board game afternoons/evenings/entire days, sometimes as a family, often with friends. The mainstay is Settlers of Catan (with several extension packs), a brilliant strategy game that I think I've mentioned here before, but more recently we've discovered Azul, which is very different, but also good, and we've also added Arboretum to the games library too, which has beautifully illustrated cards. Settlers is still the ultimate, but it's nice to have some new ones in rotation.

After Life notwithstanding, it can be hard to find things to watch as a family (my children are 17 and 14) when everyone wants different things. I mostly watch things with my daughter as we tend to like the same things, but we recently all watched Free Solo, a documentary film set around a man's mission to climb El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes and it was gripping and universally enjoyed (although I don't like heights and had to watch through my hands in places, so universally enjoyed with a side of nausea for some).

My friend Jenny (hello, PW!), recently recommended a podcast called Love Stories with Dolly Alderton, where people share stories about all the different kinds of love they've experienced throughout their lives. I'd recommend listening to Emma Freud's interview, which was wickedly funny, although I winced for poor Cousin Charlotte. The link will take you to iTunes, although it should be available wherever you listen to your podcasts.

On Saturday, with a million others, I went into London with my parents and daughter for the People's Vote march, possibly a last opportunity to convey our feelings about Brexit to the government. The banners and signs we saw were amazing - people showed their anger with such wit and good humour. My three favourites were simple ones though:
 I'm really cross.
British and on a march - things must be bad.
Things are so bad, even the introverts are here. 
The latter summed up my own attendance, which was more about putting my feet on the street, than entering into any uncharacteristic outbursts of chanting and I enjoyed an afternoon chatting to my dad while we walked. In case you haven't already heard, there's currently a petition on the government website (sadly, only open to UK residents/British citizens - at home or abroad - aged over 18) requesting Article 50 be revoked. At the time of writing it has 5.5 million signatures on it, which are apparently unlikely to be bots as you have to click a link in an email to confirm your vote, and each email address can only be used once. There is something joyful about seeing that number flicker upwards every thirty seconds. Worth adding your name to if it aligns with your views and you haven't already.

En route to the march, we passed a small market selling an eclectic mix of antiques and handmade. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation for me trying to guess at whether my obsession with EPP is partly borne out of a love of kaleidoscopes or vice versa (see my blog banner if you're wondering where the similarity is), but either way, the love is real and when I saw what this one was capable of, I found it impossible to leave behind - by changing the position of the kaleidoscope the beads float down and the image appears to fall towards you. 

I made a video of it in action, although it only shows half the wonder as it's even more incredible if you also rotate the kaleidoscope at the same time, something I wasn't capable of doing while also filming (I tried. And failed).

I'm not sure I've ever loaded a video onto Blogger before so I hope it works for you.

I'd love to hear what you're watching/reading/doing.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

Monday, 11 March 2019

Mud Wall

Let's begin with a random photo of Bella, just because she's nicer than any of the photos that follow - you can really see her age in this photo as although her fur looks quite plentiful, it also like that of an older, shaggier cat, which I find endearing. She's been acting quite strangely since Honey died and I think she may suspect Nell of having eaten her (a not unreasonable assumption from one who saw Honey was there one moment and then gone the next. Although they never actually spent much time together, so it would be a belated loyalty on Bella's part), as the dynamic between them seems to have changed and now when Nell walks past, Bella has begun punching at her with a curled paw, or worse, swiping with claws out. Nell is terrified and we have twice discovered her whimpering in the utility room, too scared to walk past Bella, who seems to enjoy blocking her way like a school bully (as well as drinking from Nell's water bowl, which is like a great lake compared to Bella's own and so is quite a funny sight). It's odd how utterly defenceless Nell seems in the face of an animal that's less than a quarter of her size - there must be much animal messaging between them goes undetected by humans. This is the problem with starting with a random photo...this post was actually meant to be about paint colours.

Finally fully recovered from flu, last weekend I decided to repaint a wall in the kitchen I've always disliked. Most of our walls are very light, but that one was a curious colour I'd mixed up from odds and ends of paint in our garage. Once I'd created my special shade, I enthusiastically daubed it on without waiting around between coats for things to dry, deciding that was probably just one of those tedious things manufacturers like to tell you to do unnecessarily. I was rewarded with a colour that was curiously patchy and later, the effect of two coats of paint drying at different rates meant it actually began to splinter into tiny cracks like baked mud in summer. Essentially, my painting style is the exact opposite to that of my approach to English paper's as though the EPP has gobbled up all the patience and care and left me with nothing to offer to a paintbrush. For this reason, I've always left most of the painting to my husband as he is awesome at it, although he refuses to be drawn into anything that doesn't involve cream paint on the grounds that I could change my mind once the colour is on the wall*.

I imagine without evidence you may feel I am hamming up my wall for dramatic effect, so I thought I'd share a photo, even though it pains me. When I showed it to the man in the paint shop he said, 'Oh, I see! You're painting on wood - I'd misunderstood and thought it was a wall,' to which I had to confess that it was actually a wall and that I'd somehow created a cracked woodgrain effect on it. Do feel free to click to enlarge it if you'd like to admire it in its full glory.

Whenever I pondered the problem of the patchy, cracked wall in my head - about once a week for 18 months - I could only see four options: get the wall freshly plastered, tile over the wall, knock the wall down, or move house. But should you ever find yourself in a similar situation (I can't imagine the person who would, but it would be so nice to know of a kindred spirit if that's you), there's a fifth option that costs barely anything: you can sand the entire wall by hand with some 120-grit sandpaper wrapped around a woodblock and you'll end up with the something similar to a freshly plastered wall and feel immeasurably proud of yourself. It took me three hours of intensive sanding and an unbelievable amount of dust to smooth the wall back, but it worked. I was so grateful much of the wall is covered by cupboards, reducing the area that needed sanding.

The other suggestion my paint shop made to me is that you can get a really smooth line between colours if you use non-bleed masking tape, rather than just regular masking tape - it's much more expensive, but I can now see definitely worth it. I also watched a wonderful YouTube video that said sometimes you can get a little channel where two walls meet (we have one of those) and if you paint along that it will stop you from achieving a crisp wall (very true - the cracked mud was far from crisp in this area), so the trick is to actually paint an 1/8" onto the adjoining wall and paint a little way around the corner, in this case onto the cream wall (see the below photo). Anyway, after all that preparation and study, I found myself turning over a brand new leaf and took extreme care with my painting and even enjoyed it. My entire family offered surprised congratulations on its successful completion.

With the relative triumph of the green wall still fresh in his mind, my husband felt it was safe to risk buying me two thick Farrow & Ball books all about painting and decorating for my birthday last week and they are things of wonder. I actually read both of them cover to cover, rather than just looking at the pictures, and learnt so much. They are really nicely written - not prescriptive or rule-based, but full of inspiration and encouragement. I liked also that although they take their paints seriously, they don't seem to take the act of decorating itself seriously and see it more as grounds to have fun and play with colour, confessing to pretty much redecorating their own homes once a month.

While I really loved neutral colours like the ones above and use them pretty much everywhere, my heart does do a little leap every time I see a photo of a room with intense, saturated colour or a beautiful wallpaper and what I learnt while reading these books is that if you have a really tiny room, painting it in neutrals may only draw attention to its smallness or make it feel a bit nothingy, where using a lot of delicious colour and pattern will make that the thing that people notice. This really reminded me of the way my mum decorated when I was growing up, where a small downstairs loo was always an excuse for her to use some crazy riotous wallpaper - I particularly remember her using this red Laura Ashley Floribunda wallpaper when I was a teenager (curiously, my parents now live in a house where every wall is painted white as it suits their architecture best that way, although my mum is still quite dramatic with upholstery and fabrics). But anyway, my thoughts have turned to decorating my own downstairs loo and possibly my husband's small office too, which feel like contained areas to unleash some colour, so I've been having fun ordering wallpaper samples and thinking about paint colours.

For the last fifteen years, I've always used Little Greene's paints - they're deliciously thick and have a nice chalky finish, but after reading Farrow & Ball's books about their use of pigment and the explanation of why their paint is necessarily so thin, I'm beginning to wonder if anyone who has used them has noticed the difference? Is it discernibly more lovely? Does it seem to magically change in different lights in a way that other paints don't?

In the photo above, bottom is Little Greene's paint chart, on top is Farrow & Ball's. I want them all.

Before I go, I want to leave you with a photo of the birthday card made by my daughter - my family always make me handmade cards and its become something of a one-horse competition between them, where every year when my daughter's card is unveiled (it's always made in complete secrecy to increase her chances of winning and avoid any copying, which did happen one year), my husband and son end up laughing as they realise that yet again she has blown them both out of the water.

This year, she'd made a pop up card, where inside a heart sprang out of a 3D I love you. All the colours are hand-painted and the words and heart create beautiful shadows. Their cards are always my favourite part of my birthday and I love that I now have so many years' worth of them. The weather was foul on the actual day, so we met my dad for breakfast, pottered around the old bit of town (the bit you'd go to if you're not buying practical things) and then the garden centre, and later that afternoon, my parents came over for cake once our children were home from school. It was a really lovely day and made me feel sometimes the simplest birthdays can be nicest. Also, my husband asked a local cafe to make a birthday mocha cake that's both gluten-free (me) and vegan (daughter) and it was one of the best I've ever tasted - the effect of a cake to make a day perfect can't be underestimated. Which reminds me of the time several years ago when we were considering moving to Winchelsea, only to return to find the village shop had stopped serving fresh cake and, despite it still being the most glorious place to live, we realised the cake had been the main pull for us and neither of us wanted to move anymore.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x

* Frustratingly true - when repainting the mud wall I first used Little Greene's Pearl Colour Dark and that was too minty in the afternoon sun for my purposes, so I then had to tape everything up again and repaint it in Little Greene's Normandy Grey, which is the sage green you can see in the photos above. What's troublesome about that, is that my painting had been perfect the first time and a little less so the next time (not much, but enough to make me feel like I want a framed picture of the first attempt even though the colour wasn't right).

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

An Uncertain Trip Around the World

The last time I used the Scrappy Trip Around the World Pattern was in 2013 when I made a Liberty print dog bed for Nell (do click through if you want to see the extreme testing process she subjected that bed to. Oddly, it ended up being the only bed that was truly indestructible when she was a puppy and, despite her best efforts, all those lines of quilting made it freakishly strong. Looking back at this makes me realised what a semi-civilised little creature she's become - she would never try to eat her own bed now).

The eagle-eyed will be relieved to know these finished blocks aren't actually sewn together yet, but it gives you an idea of the World Tour I'm on right now. If I were to send you a postcard at this point, it would probably say that I'm not entirely sure I like the place I've ended up in - I've struggled with this palette a lot, which is a mixture of linens, striped linens and Tana lawn. I chose them because I thought they'd work in the room where I want the quilt to live, which has lots of different shades of yellow and mustard in it but somehow doesn't feel like a room with lots of colour (the colours seem to register as neutrals), so when I chose the fabrics for this I went for far plainer things than I'd ever usually choose for a quilt...which I'm now finding rather dull to sew with. I'd imagined the texture of the linens would soften it all and make it feel like fun to work with, but I'm not sure they've actually had that effect on me.

I'm finding it hard to separate the dullness of the sewing process with whether I actually like it as a quilt. My husband and daughter love it, but I'm finding it more masculine than I'd intended and I'm not sure how to soften it - here a few blocks laid out on the sofa where it will live. 

Despite my making a quilt for this room, it isn't currently's just full of the wrong quilt. I think I've talked before about how my husband favours using the bright red Charlotte Barlett quilt (ignoring that it was made as a garden quilt) claiming it's more comfortable to lie under than any other quilt, but its brightness has the effect of making me feel I've had the colour equivalent of a slap around the face with a wet kipper every time I walk into the room and, even after a few years of seeing it on the sofa, my eyes never seem to adjust to how garish it looks against cream walls.

In the planning stages of this quilt, I realised if my husband were to accept a replacement, it would have to be so irresistibly snuggly that the red quilt would begin to seem almost unbearably scratchy and cold by comparison. Installing a layer sandpaper and ice packs would be one strategy, but ideally I wanted to achieve this feat without causing him discomfort or sabotaging the red quilt for garden use (although the ice packs could totally work in the event of a heatwave).

Just before Christmas, I was ordering some things from Billow Fabrics and decided to put a fat quarter of sherpa fleece in my bag, wondering if it might be suitable as a quilt backing. When it arrived, I found that it wasn't just suitable, but was actually the fabric of dreams. It's incredibly soft and fluid, with very little bulk, but somehow feels spectacularly sumptuous. I feel almost certain that if there is a fabric that can tempt my husband into abandoning the red quilt, it is this one.

But when I went order some more I found it had all gone and didn't seem to exist elsewhere in the UK - if you wish to create a visual image to represent the inner workings of my head on discovering that, just picture The Scream and you're pretty much there. I got in touch with Jenny and found she hadn't been intending to get any more in stock until next Christmas (more Edvard!), but she very kindly offered to order a roll in for me so I could buy some without waiting all year. In case you're wondering, she did this without my relaying the tale of my husband's improper use of the garden quilt or my conveying any profound desperation in the email - it was just exceptional customer service - I was so happy!

I'm imagining using it without any batting, as I think the sherpa will fulfil the purposes of batting and backing in one, which makes it extremely cost-effective. I'm not sure what it's going to be like to work with in terms of quilting - I worry it may be a little eel-like, but I'll report back. Either way, at this point, I'm very excited about it! Does anyone know how much cuddle fabrics shrink? Should I wash it beforehand, or will it be fine to wash afterwards with just a normal amount of welcome quiltcrinkle occurring?

If you haven't come across Billow Fabrics before, do go and take a look - they have lots of lovely linens (including Liberty linen, which I've only just noticed!), a wide variety of cuddle fabrics, gloriously coloured wool felts, and Liberty fabrics (which was probably what I was ordering when I spotted the sherpa).

So, this is currently what's on my design wall. Just getting to this point has taken me forever...but maybe that's because I had the remains of flu while sewing these blocks, so was sewing a line and then resting, sewing a line and then resting - I didn't remember this being a pattern that takes long to come together. I can't decide if I love it or am just a bit meh about it...if it ends up being the latter then I may be posting about it in a few years time and, as with the red quilt, trying to make a replacement for it, but finding nothing can compete with the softness of the sherpa fleece and therefore being stuck with it forever...

Finishing all the uncertainty with a flu update: nearly three and a half weeks later, I still have a cough, but I think I may finally be nearly better! I started the new week feeling really quite perky, evidenced by cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming before 9am! Extraordinary scenes with or without the remains of flu in my case.

Wishing you a happy week,
Florence x
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