Tuesday, 28 May 2013

England In May

In this article, in The Daily Telegraph, earlier this month, about getting in training for RideLondon, Boris Johnson wrote that "There is nowhere more beautiful than England in May" with the tulips out and the "hawthorn blossom lying like gunsmoke across the battlefield; the sun soft, everything surging and budding with spring." I might not go quite so far as to say that nowhere is more beautiful than England in May, but when the sun shines, the English countryside or an English garden is indeed a good place to be. Yesterday the sun was soft and, although most of the tulips are over, everything was "surging and budding with spring". Today it is raining and damp and grey again, but one can't have everything.

Like many bloggers, I find myself drawn to taking (and posting) pictures of the seasons and the natural beauty inherent in the changing landscape around me. Recently I have found myself a bit reluctant to add my rather amateur photographic offerings to the many, very beautiful and very professional-looking photos out there, on the grounds that I can't add anything of which you won't find other, and better, versions elsewhere.

My reluctance has been compounded by going through an archive of old family photographs which my best friend had acquired and finding that the only ones that really held our attention were ones of identifiable people. Photographs of landscapes and gardens, flowers and mountains, without the added detail of someone we knew, either personally or by extension, we flipped through without much interest, despite some of them being beautiful images in their own right; photographs of family and friends however, even those now long dead, we pored over, delightedly peering through the windows they gave onto family history and life lived.

Thinking about this, added to my feeling that my posting pictures of landscapes and flowers etc on here might be interesting for me, but possibly not for anyone else much. And this raises the interesting and complex question not of John Donne's "For whom does the bell toll?" but "For whom does the blogger blog?". I've noticed quite a number of bloggers talk about their blogs as places for recording memories for the blogger themselves as much as for anyone else. Looking back through blog archives is clearly a way of remembering and savouring moments that have given delight - a way of reliving good times and happy moments after their passing. Blogs aren't exactly diaries but there's an overlap in places.

Of course lots of the pics posted in blogland give delight to others too, but the point I'm making is that even if they didn't, the posting of them remains important, perhaps even essential, for bloggers themselves. And although I think one of the most important and special aspects of blogging is the possibility of connection with others, there is also a place for blogging that preserves connections with ourselves and the days of our lives that we thread together, like beads on a string; sometimes in deliberate patterns and ordered arrangements; often haphazardly and accidentally and which, whether we like it or not, make up the history of our identity. And part of life's essential survival kit, I think, is remaining interested in that.

So today I am simply going to post some pics I took yesterday afternoon without demur. You may, or may not, find they interest you. There are lots of better pics of England in May out there and there's nothing special about mine, but I am putting them here because if I don't, I will forget the moments of memory they carry for me of a May afternoon in the sunshine. Not big moments, or any kind of dramatic events, but moments that lift my spirits to remember today and perhaps in unknown tomorrows when I want to hang on to the today that will be then be a long-gone yesterday.

And I can't say I won't repeat the exercise from time to time, so feel free to skim through and move on when I do, like I and my BF did, going through that fifty-year-old archive. Normal service will be resumed shortly!

All of these pics, apart from the last, were snapped while walking along a track about 200 yards from home. The apple blossom is in my own garden - the tree is absolutely covered in flowers, as if it is making up for the lack of fruit last year and promising two years' worth of fruit in one.

PS Please would Caroline Saunders and MagsD get in touch with their addresses for their giveaway bags? I haven't heard from you and your bags are waiting to be sent off to you, if you still want them. You may have changed your mind of course, which is fine, but I don't want to send them elsewhere if you are still interested. Let me know by the end of this week (31/5/13) if you still want one. 

E x

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Mme de Pompadour aka My New Dressmaking Friend

One of my favourite paintings of all time is the portrait painted by François Boucher of Mme de Pompadour in 1759. Do you know it? It hangs in The Wallace Collection in London and I've loved it ever since I first saw it as a small child.

It's painted in that slightly over-the-top Rococo style that Boucher does so well and art critics of the day, such as Diderot, were a bit scathing about it. I don't care if the critics say it is not great art; to me it epitomises a world of elegance and culture, beauty and intelligence, grace and aesthetic finesse. It is also a clever portrait (which Mme de Pompadour may well have commissioned herself) as a subtle, if extravagant, way of communicating with her royal lover. The statue of Cupid being gently but firmly pushed to one side by a Muse in the background, reflects a shift in the relationship between the Marquise and the King but indicates that change does not have to mean the end of their friendship. The iconography suggests that while the flames of passion might have subsided, since their first heady days in 1745, the King's mistress is still a charming friend and an entertaining and cultured companion worth retaining, who can occupy more than one role alongside him. The faithful little dog similarly denotes her willingness to wait on Louis. Much more subtle and dignified than sending pleading or importunate letters not to be forgotten or passed over, although I guess Boucher's fee cost Mme la Marquise a pretty penny! It was clearly worth it though because Mme brought off the tricky transition from passionate mistress to platonic friend and retained her official position at court until her death in 1764.

For us in the 21st C, what Boucher paints is, of course, is a fairy-tale world populated by roses and ruffles, foamy lace and unlimited acres of silk satin, beribboned sleeves and dainty shoes with "Louis heels", painted and gilded fans, handwritten letters and ormolu clocks that chime musically on marble-topped tables with all the harsh realities of life safely out of view. In this world classical statuary, (probably genuine Roman art, plundered by collectors, as so much was in the 18th C from classical sites in Italy), adorns gardens complete with grottoes and fountains and small, very well-behaved dogs wait patiently, at a prudent distance from the hems of those exquisite skirts. Volumes of poetry or philosophy are evident, tossed temporarily on one side by the sitter but waiting to improve an idle hour when the mood takes.

If I had to pick a heroine, Mme de Pompadour would be it, although Anne Boleyn, for whom I also cherish a soft spot, would be a close second. Beautiful, graceful and cultured, but also a shrewd realist, Mme de Pompadour (or Jeanne Antoniette Poisson as she started out in life), somehow combines the best of femininity and intelligence. Boucher painted a number of portraits of la belle Marquise, all of them while she was Louis XV's official mistress and while Boucher was court painter at the French court, during the late 18th C. There is another very large and very spectacular Boucher portrait of her in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. I love the way she's painted in this portrait, sitting with her back against a mirror so that you can see the back of her elegant hair-do and the frothy bow at the back of her neck. And if I could walk safely in heels, I'd do anything for a pair of those pink satin beribboned mules she's wearing! Would that my own feet were that dainty!

Prints of both the Wallace Collection painting and the Alte Pinakothek one hang on my study wall and I love them. I was looking at them the other day after my new dressmaking friend arrived in a welter of cardboard and polystyrene packaging and was lying prone and rather undignified in several pieces on the study floor. Helped to a more dignified standing position and with her single leg bolted securely in place, my new dressmaking friend waited patiently in a corner while I considered where to place her and whether or not she might benefit from a smidgeon of cosmetic surgery!

As she waited beside the prints on the wall behind her, I was struck by the stillness that emanated from her and which seemed akin to the stillness emanating from the paintings. My new friend has no head and was "made in China" but her fabric "skin" is a French print and she has a certain French elegance about her so I thought perhaps she ought to be given a French name but nothing quite seemed to fit her. Anyway the longer she stayed near the portraits of Mme de Pompadour the more she seemed connected to them so in the end I gave in and a new Mme de Pompadour she has become. I am not sure that the original Mme de P would be flattered to have a dressmakers' dummy named after her but I hope she doesn't mind - it's intended as a compliment.

I've wanted a dressmaking dummy for a long time but the ones I had seen have been rather expensive and I just didn't quite feel I could justify the cost. And then there was the question of where it would live and whether it would get in the way of stuff. I'd kept the longing at bay until Judy posted about the arrival of Flora here. Flora's flowery fabric was what did it, added to Judy's comments about the difficulty of pinning hems and seeing how a garment is going to look on you when you're making it yourself which resonated all too clearly with my own experience. So of course when Judy kindly emailed me the website from which she had ordered Flora I had just to have a look. And I was pleasantly surprised by the range of possible dummy options and the range of prices. Of course if you don't do dressmaking yourself, any such dummy will be a waste of money, but if you do, especially for yourself, then it's worth considering.

My Mme de Pomapdour, despite her grand name, is not as sophisticated as Flora! You can't adjust her vital statistics and she doesn't come with an automatic hem measurer down by her feet but actually, for my purposes, she's great. I don't make a lot of tailored, closely fitted items so I don't need her to replicate my measurements and just being able to hang a garment on a three dimensional body rather than a hanger is a huge help. I've found anyway.

Mme's French "skin" is also beautifully neutral for setting off the colours and prints which are what I tend to work in but I did feel she was just a shade too muted. I toyed with the idea of swapping her existing print with a flowery one but the logistics of fitting this and the benefits of her being neutral stayed my hand. Back to the paintings for inspiration, now that affinity had been established! And of course! What she needed was just a little 18th C romantic ornamentation so I've strung a string of pearl beads around her neck and added a crocheted choker with a crochet rose inspired straight from Boucher's brush and voilà, je vous présente, Mme, la Marquise de Pompadour, in all her glory!

She has now migrated upstairs close to my sewing machine and in a tranquil and elegant way is working hard for her living!

The rose is a "Ribbon Rose" from Suzann Thompson's "Crochet Bouquet" and the choker is just five, very simple, rows of single crochet with a crocheted loop and a pretty button to fasten. All made in Cascade Ultra Pima cotton on a 4mm hook.

I am intending to borrow the choker with the rose from her to wear myself occasionally and the pearl beads too, but for now they are happily hers!

Bienvenue à la maison, Mme!

Et bon weekend à vous toutes!

E x

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

In My Kitchen In May

Joining in with Celia's In My Kitchen series here, in my kitchen, in May, have been:

A huge number of eggs again. Pic very similar to that in my last "In My Kitchen" post back in March but I am afraid I love these bowls of eggs with the odd soft bantam feather among them.

The bantams have gone into overdrive over the last three months and I have been having trouble keeping up. So a lot of my cooking has been using their output: poached eggs on toast; omelettes; ice cream; cheesecake; tarte au citron (the tarte au citron, pictured below has won the prize so far of using the most eggs in one go, twelve bantam eggs went into this in total - ten whole eggs in the filling and two yolks in the pastry! I know, I know, not supposed to be good for you eating too many eggs, but this was a huge tart, eaten in small(ish!) slices!)

I have also made several jars of passionfruit curd. Homemade curd, of any kind, I think, is worth every slow minute of stirring even though it takes quite a long time to thicken properly. I usually make lemon or orange curd but when passionfruit are not too expensive, this is probably my favourite. Fabulous piled on scones; delectable in a sponge cake; sublime swirled into whipped cream and topped with mango or raspberries (or both) on a pavlova.

There has also been some experimenting with some recipes from Salt, Sugar And Smoke by Diana Henry which I got for Christmas but hadn't really explored properly, until recently:

Middle Eastern labneh cheese, made from homemade wholemilk yoghurt, drained overnight in a sieve lined with muslin, and then shaped and rolled in chopped fresh herbs, from the garden - mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and chives all of which are now burgeoning and ready for picking.

The coated balls of soft cheese are then submerged in jars of olive oil.

Haven't tasted it yet because it needs a few days for the flavours to mature but it's looking good so far, I must say. Going to crank up the sourdough starter, currently sleeping in the fridge, and make a sourdough loaf to go with it, as per Diana Henry's recommendation.

Rhubarb, rose and cardamom jam from the same book.

I don't like rhubarb much as a general rule - I know I ought to somehow but I don't - it's just too sharp and too tannic. But the picture of this jam, in Salt, Sugar and Smoke, was just too alluring not to try and as the rhubarb patch outside the back door has been accusing me every time I go out there for not harvesting it, I thought I would give it a go. It's a revelation. The cardamom and rosewater take off all the unpleasant acidity and lend the finished jam a wonderful fragrance and exoticism. It's beautifully softly set too and slides easily atop plain, homemade yoghurt or chilled rice pudding (as in my pic below) to make an unexpectedly entrancing sweet finish to a meal.

Rice pudding, like rhubarb, isn't up there in my normal list of favourite puddings, certainly not served hot, but baked in a slow oven for a couple of hours, with a split vanilla pod and then chilled and served in small bowls, with a spoonful of this jam, which is really more of a French-style "confiture", slipped on top, it's a grown-up contender as a pudding that leaves its nursery cousin far behind. Think of it as "crème au riz" rather than "rice pudding", even if you just make it with milk and no cream - helps the perception no end, if you have bad memories of school rice pudding, and, as we all know, perception plays no small part in these things!

My pride and joy in the kitchen this month has been the first slender pickings from my juvenile asparagus crowns - steamed and eaten alone in all their solitary glory, enhanced only by a swift swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and some black pepper.

Other day to day offerings have included homemade malt loaf - basically an ordinary half white / half wholemeal flour loaf with a couple of generous handfuls of sultanas thrown in and with several, dark and viscous, spoonfuls of extract of malt added.

Making this always makes me think of Winnie-the-Pooh and the story "In Which Tigger Comes To The Forest And Has Breakfast" in which the bouncy and hungry Tigger does the rounds of Pooh and his friends in search of sustenance. Finding neither Pooh's honey nor the condensed milk Pooh spots in Kanga's larder, nor Piglet's "haycorns" nor Eeyore's thistles make much of an appealing breakfast (apart from the honey and condensed milk, who can blame him, quite honestly?!) he finally decides that extract of malt, is pretty much made for his purpose, even though it is disliked intensely by baby Roo, who is given it after meals as "Strengthening Medicine"! I am not sure I would give you a thank you for extract of malt neat on a spoon, (unlike my passionfruit curd, just because it is so delicious!) but as an ingredient in bread, extract of malt is great and, Tigger aside, this loaf toasts beautifully and keeps all week, which makes for quick and easy breakfasts when we are against the clock for school, as we usually are in the mornings.

Have a look at Celia's lovely blog here for peeks in other May kitchens.

E x

Friday, 17 May 2013

Crochet Bath Mat # 2 and "Easy Summer Living" Bag Giveaway Winners

My second crocheted bath mat has hit the floor! Took a bit longer to complete than I expected because when sewing the daisy hexagons together I discovered one or two rogue hexies with eleven petals instead of twelve. "Would anyone notice?", I asked myself."No, they wouldn't." But of course I had noticed and so I would in future notice; in fact every time I looked at it my eye was inexorably drawn to the offending missing petals. So with a certain amount of cursing, huffing and puffing I made myself unpick and redo the ones that were not quite right. If you spot any others that I haven't yet noticed, please don't tell me or I will have to redo those as well!

In the course of the unpicking, I also managed to snip the back of a perfectly good petal stitch which led to a bit of blue smoke and a lot of heated expletives. The one big downside of crochet as compared to knitting, I realise, is that it is virtually impossible to effect a repair of a damaged stitch unobtrusively. After my initial panic at realising what I'd done, I did however manage to pull the snipped ends through just enough to tie a new piece of yarn onto each end, thereby joining them together again, but it was touch and go. The join is on the back and doesn't show, I think, but it's a lesson to be a bit less scissor-happy in future!

Anyone else have any tips on repairing crochet without simply unravelling it and recrocheting? It occurs to me, for example, that, were any unwelcome moths to take a fancy to my blankets, any holes would be extraordinarily difficult to mend. Not too disastrous perhaps in a blanket made up of small, individual units, such as squares or hexagons, as the unit could be carefully cut out and redone, but fairly calamitous in a continuous piece of fabric such as my Sea-Ripple, which is fast reaching the finish line. I hope my cotton blankets are safer but it may be a good reason to stick to yarn not favoured by pesky moth larvae!

Anyway leaving aside such apocalyptic thoughts, I am very happy with my hexie daisy bath mat. Someone asked if I use any kind of backing for these. I don't and have found they are fine on their own but you could always sew on something non-slip if you wanted to. The nice thing about using cotton though, is that when damp, it's quite grippy anyway.

I have made my bath mat with a few more hexagons than the pattern in Sue's book (each of my rows has one more hexagon in it than the original pattern). This was to compensate for the fact that I was using a single strand of cotton yarn on its own, as opposed to a strand of cotton yarn and a strand of an acrylic together, so my hexagons came out a little bit smaller than Sue's. It's still quite compact which I really like - big enough to be practical to use, but not so big as to take ages to dry or, more significantly, to become too heavy when wet - this does not reflect a concern for the comfort of post-shower feet so much as a concern for my crochet becoming distorted! Priorities, people!

As with my first patchwork, Granny Square sampler, bath mat, I used a 4.5 mm hook and Rico Creative Cotton from my post-blanket stash, although alarmingly (or encouragingly, depending on how you look at it!), the stash pile doesn't seem to have diminished in size much!

Now on to the winners of my "Easy Summer Living" Bag giveaway. Thank you all so much for your lovely comments on them. Sorry, I haven't got enough to give a bag to all of you who wanted one. But if you haven't won one and want one, do give the pattern a go - it's really easy. And if you do hit any snags with the pattern or the instructions aren't clear, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to help.

The three winners, pulled, this time, in the old fashioned way, from a hooky hat, (well, a hooky bowl actually), are:



and Caroline Saunders

so if you could email me your postal addresses I will pop them in the post to you asap. (You can find my email address at the top of this page under the Contact Me tab.) I hope you enjoy using your bags and that we finally get some summery weather to fit their theme!

E x

Sunday, 12 May 2013

"Easy Summer Living" Bags

I have been having a bit of a clear out of my fabric stash - basically because the lids on my boxes wouldn't close and in fact are beginning, literally, to crack up under the strain! I am a bit of a hoarder of printed fabric and tend to buy bits of this or that, when I can afford it, just because, well, you never know, and if I don't buy them when I spot them and go back subsequently, having decided I must acquire whatever print it is that has caught my eye, nine times out of ten, it's gone with the wind and any inquiry about it, is a cue for hearing those depressing words, "No, we won't be getting any more in.".

The good news about this hoarding habit is that there is usually something to draw on for a particular project (so long as not too much of any one fabric is needed); the bad news is that there's quite a lot of fabric that sits around not being used because its destiny hasn't (yet) come up! So I have been thinning it out a bit, with some happy results, I have to say.

My first foray into "thinning out", married some fabric from my stash with some fabulous prints which a dear friend in Tennessee sent me. The result of this is, although I say it myself, a rather gorgeous gipsy skirt, which is nearly, but not quite, finished. I'll show you when it is - clearly 2013 is the year when my hippy tendencies are emerging Big Time because my gipsy skirt has a beautifully vintage 1970s vibe about it, to join my other recent makes of my All The Time In The World Blouse and my Jeans For The Golden Road To Samarkand.

My second "thinning out" has resulted in some straightforward, but nonetheless pleasing, bags using some leftover Japanese Kokka Echino print fabric for the outsides and assorted flowery prints for the linings - mostly some Tanya Whelan Sugar Hill "Scattered Roses" in pale lemon, pink and green with a touch of light blue and some John Louden "English Florals" in mixed reds, pinks, greens and oranges.

Bags like these are very easy to make and I find them very useful. The Japanese Kokka Echino print fabric is perfect for bag-making because it's a lovely linen / cotton mix which is a bit heavier than plain cotton and so is nice and robust, while still pretty. I love the colours - those bright greens, violets, pinks and oranges mixed with slightly milky turquoise against the natural linen-coloured background are very summery and the woodcut-effect birds and flowers have a lightness and energy to them that is very appealing.

My design is for a biggish bag, but not too big, the finished measurements are about 17" by 16" / 45cm by 40cm, so almost, but not quite, square, with a nice boxy bottom and a useful inside pocket with compartments for the essentials of life - crochet hooks, tea bags, scissors, 'phone, car keys etc.

I find this sort of size of bag particularly useful in the unpredictable and flighty English summer. Big enough to carry a spare cardigan for when that blissfully clear, summer day suddenly turns cloudy and a sharp little breeze takes the edge off sitting dreamily outside in the sun; accommodating enough to store the same cardigan when another grey, rather damp day suddenly lifts, the sun springs out and a layer or two needs to be shed with immediate effect; robust enough to house an impromptu picnic, a portable hooky project, a bundle of work papers and several heavy bunches of large keys; light enough not to be cumbersome when I'm walking cross-country; capacious enough to take a spare pair of flip-flops for when I'm not walking cross-country; flexible enough to shove under a chair, in the boot of my car, on the kitchen work-surface; and as well as all the above, user-friendly enough to go happily in and out of the washing machine when my bar of chocolate melts at the bottom of it, my flask of tea spills in it or my fountain pen leaks on it.

This is a bag for easy summer living and I've made five in total.

One is a present for a friend, one I am already using, (hot off the sewing machine!), and three are looking for happy homes. Anyone interested? If you are, leave me a comment and, (if there are more than three of you), I'll draw names out of a hat at the end of the week.

I'll send anywhere in the world so long as you are happy to email me your postal address and can give a bag a happy home, even if you live somewhere where the summer is less fickle than here in the UK! These are not factory-perfect bags - they have the odd little quirkiness that goes with "handmade, homemade" but I hope some of you might enjoy using them. See what you think from the pics.

Or of course you might prefer to make your own version with your own choice of fabrics rather than mine. If so, here's my design and a few instructions to help you along the way should you need it. You need about a yard / a metre of fabric for the outside and the same again for the lining but don't forget you can always piece smaller bits together to make a lining, if you have some small left-overs from another sewing project. No one will see on the inside. The same thing applies to the straps if you are short of fabric.

The bag itself is a doddle to sew but it's worth taking time over drawing out the pattern to get a good finish. The pattern I drew up is this one below and it includes standard 5/8" / 1.5cm seam allowances so you don't need to worry about adding these on to the measurements I've given here. I tend to work in inches when sewing, I am afraid, but I've given the metric equivalents for those of you who prefer that.

I originally wanted to scan the pattern I drew out by hand, but my printer decided it wouldn't cooperate so I've had to draw this out on the computer which was trickier than I thought, not least the insertion into the blog post via a screen shot which was the only way I could make it stay where it was put! It's not to scale as you can see, but it does make clear what you need, I hope!

The square cut-outs in the corners aren't essential but take the guesswork out of achieving a nice neat boxy bottom for your bag so I think it's worth drawing them and cutting them like this.

It doesn't matter where you place the notches on the bag sides but the notches on the boxy cut-outs in the corners should be placed exactly half-way along each indentation, as shown, to work properly.

Once you've drawn out your pattern pieces on some scrap paper - a bright felt pen and some newspaper do nicely - let's get cutting! (Happy Snippers Of The World Unite! Tee hee!)

You need to cut four pieces of the main bag pattern piece, two in your outer fabric and two in your lining fabric. In addition, cut two pieces of the pocket pattern piece, one in your outer fabric and one in your lining fabric. You also need to cut two straps, one for each bag side. Mine started off as two strips of fabric 28" / 71cm long by about 4.5" / 12cm wide but you can make them shorter and a bit narrower if you want. Don't make them too narrow or they will drive you mad when you come to turn them out!

OK? Now you're ready to sew, so crank up your sewing machine with some thread to match or tone with your fabrics and, while you are at it, switch the iron on, so that it will be good and hot, when you come to press the seams you're about to sew.

Take your two pocket pieces and pin them together, matching the edges and with right sides facing. Stitch along each of the four sides leaving a gap for turning in the bottom long edge. Clip off the corners of the seam allowances and turn the right way out using a wooden knitting needle or similar gently to poke out the corners. Press.

Now line the pocket piece up on the right side of one of your lining pieces it should sit about 4.5" / 10cm below the top edge and central between the two side edges. Pin in place and then top stitch along the sides and bottom edge, (not along the top obviously, or it will be a patch not a pocket!) You can now make little compartments in your pockets if you want to - I made some for crochet hooks on-the-go and a couple of slightly larger ones for other stuff. Just draw the lines where you want the divisions to come on the pocket, with tailor's chalk and a ruler, or mark with pins, then topstitch through the pocket and lining fabric, to make compartments to suit your particular needs. Pull through any threads to the wrong side of the lining piece and knot neatly to secure.

Place the outer fabric pieces of the bag together, right sides together, matching edges and side notches. Don't worry about the corners at this stage. Pin along the sides and the bottom edge, leaving the corners flapping gappily! Stitch. Do exactly the same with the lining pieces.

Press each of the sewn seams flat and open.

Fold the right side of the fabric towards the wrong side in a 5/8"/1.5 cm seam allowance along the top edge of the lining and the outer bag. Press.

Now for those boxy corners. What you want to do is to match up the notches in a neat line across the bottom of the bag / lining, aligning the opened out and pressed ends of the side seams with those of the bottom seam. This is much easier to demonstrate than to write instructions for! Your little notches should match in pairs as in my pic. Pin and then stitch across.

See?! You've now got a lovely squared-off boxy bottom!

Nearly there now! Insert the lining into the outer bag with the wrong sides of the fabric facing one another. Pin the top edge of the lining and the bag together but don't sew yet because we're going to sandwich the strap ends between the layers.

OK, time for the straps. Take your strips of fabric and and fold each one lengthways, right sides together and stitch with a 1/4" / 0.5cm seam allowance. Press the seam flat with the wrong side of the fabric still facing outwards as in the pic below. (Pressing them first, the wrong way out, makes it easier to get a neat finish in the turned out straps.)

Now for the tricky task of turning the straps the right way out. Be patient with this - they will come out but it's fiddly and takes a little time. A wooden knitting needle, judiciously applied can help but go gently, you don't want to pierce the fabric (or jam it into an impenetrable knot, as Mrs T tends to, when she gets  impatient!) Gentle and patient teasing out is the answer. Once you've got the straps turned out, press them again and insert the ends between the lining and the outer fabric of the bag about 4.5" / 12cm from each side seam and with about 5-6" / 13-15cm between each pair of handles. Each end should be inserted about 1.5" / 4cm below the top edge. Pin securely.

Now for the final stretch! Topstitch all the way round the top edge of the bag, nice and close to the edge. Finally stitch a criss-crossed box shape over each strap end that is sandwiched, neatly hidden between the layers of fabric, as I've done in the pic. This makes a good secure bond between the handles and the rest of the bag.

You have to feel where the ends of the straps are through the fabric but it's not difficult - mark the limit of the strap end with a pin if that helps. This method makes a nice neat finish on the inside with no raw edges of the straps showing, which I rather like.

Your bag is finished! Pull through and knot the loose threads neatly, snipping off the ends to tidy up; fill your bag and head out for whatever your summer day holds.

Going to be a scorcher? Add a bottle of water, a sunhat and a change of shoes for cool feet when your morning shoes become unbearably hot.

Threatens to rain? Pop in an umbrella or a cagoule.

Work beckons? Pile in your papers, a diary and a clutch of pens along with a pick-up-put-down little hooky project for those few, spare minutes between meetings.

A day free to go exploring or shopping? Stash away a quick picnic, a flask of tea and a book and leave plenty of room for loot!

And if you're like me and prone to feel chilly, don't forget, always to carry, that very English garment, a cardigan, without which Mrs T rarely ventures forth, although, hopefully, does not always have to wear!

Don't forget to leave me a comment if you'd like one of my Kokka Echino print bags - and let me know which you'd like best,

Kokka Echino "Flap Border Green"?

Kokka Echino "Perch Stripe Pink"?

or Kokka Echino "Perch Stripe Green"?

They're offered by way of a little thank you to all of you who read here. I appreciate your visits so very much and whether or not you'd like a bag, I send you a huge thank you for visiting, reading, following and taking the time to comment.

with love 
from Mrs T

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Jeans For The Golden Road To Samarkand

Do you know that poem by James Elroy Flecker called "The Golden Road to Samarkand"? Actually Flecker wrote two similar poems. One is called "The Golden Journey To Samarkand" and is a reflection on the equalisation of achievements that the passing of time imparts - a theme rather akin to Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias"-, the other is a set of dramatised verses, called (confusingly similarly), "The Golden Road to Samarkand". The quotations from Flecker's poems that I've used here are all from "The Golden Road to Samarkand" except where otherwise indicated.

The verses in the second poem are intended to be spoken by different voices, as it were from a caravan, about to set out from Baghdad (I think), along the historic Silk Route, to the ancient city of Samarkand, situated in what is now Uzbekhistan. It is a beautifully evocative piece of writing that conjures up all the exotic, mysteriousness of the East and the draw that it has exerted on travellers from further west, from time immemorial. Its also echoes ancient human restlessness and the primeval desire to travel beyond the familiar and known.

Each group of merchants has a verse that describes what they have stowed away on the camels who "sniff the evening and are glad" as they wait to "leave ... the dim-moon city of delight"

(The Chief Draper)
"Have me not Indian carpets dark as wine,
turbans and sashes, gowns and bows and veils,
and broideries of intricate design?
And printed hangings in enormous bales?

(The Chief Grocer)
We have rose-candy, we have spikenard,
mastic, and terebinth and oil and spice,
and such sweet jams meticulously jarred
as God's own Prophet eats in Paradise.

(The Principal Jews)
And we have manuscripts in peacock styles
by Ali of Damascus; we have swords
engraved with storks and apes and crocodiles,
and heavy beaten necklaces for lords."

I love writing like this that conjures up vivid pictures, colours and scents with every tactile word. I know you can't normally call words "tactile" but I think some are. Something more than onomatopoeic. When I read those verses, I can feel the powdery sugar, drifting lightly from the "rose-candy"; I can smell the strong, poignant perfume of the "spikenard" and the resiny, aromatic scent of the "terebinth"; I can see the colours of the "meticulously jarred" exotic preserves, glowing through glass like coloured jewels; I can feel the deep velvet pile of the Indian carpets; the thickly decorated "broideries" are real to my imagination; the contours of the different stitches, the smoothness of the silk on which they play, are as vivid to me as my own more mundane clothing; the exquisite, illuminated manuscripts of eastern stories and Arabic science dance before my eyes and the cool, chased metals with their "storks and apes and crocodiles" intrigue my fingers as well as my mind somehow. Fanciful? Possibly! Wonderful? Definitely!

And as well as the merchants who make up the bulk of the caravan with their exotic wares, are pilgrims whose motive is not commerce but the wanderlust of the soul.

"We are the pilgrims, master; we shall go
always a little further; it may be
beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
across that angry or that glimmering sea,

white on a throne or guarded in a cave
there lies a prophet who can understand
why men were born; but surely we are brave,
who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
when shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
and softly through the silence beat the bells
along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
by hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
for lust of knowing what should not be known,
we take the Golden Road to Samarkand."

OK, you may be thinking, but what has this got to do with a pair of jeans? It started with a book. Not a poetry book, but a hooky book - "Crochet Garden" by Suzann Thompson. If you like crocheting flowers, this book and its companion volume, "Crochet Bouquet", are joyful and worthwhile additions to your hooky bookshelf.

Browsing through "Crochet Garden" I came upon a pattern for a "Samarkand Sunflower", inspired by textiles and pottery produced in ancient Samarkand. The name reminded me of the poem and suddenly a little hooky project was born.

One of those projects that just happen sometimes when a handful of ideas coalesce and just have to be realised without delay.

One of the project suggestions in "Crochet Bouquet", is to add some crochet "Crazy Eight" flowers to a pair of jeans.

Change up the "Crazy Eight" flowers to "Samarkand Sunflowers", add a handful or two of silver bells and you have a pair of jeans in which to join a camel-drawn caravan in "marvellous tales of ships and stars and isles where good men rest, where nevermore the rose of sunset pales, and winds and shadows fall towards the West" (from "The Golden Journey to Samarkand")

And that is exactly what I did. I began by creating large Samarkand Sunflowers in gorgeous vivid shades of pink, gold, jade and turquoise.

But when I pinned them onto the pair of jeans I had lined up for this project, the effect was, shall we say, rather startling and, I felt, wisdom regretfully suggested toning down my palette for the flowers a bit. If I were twenty years younger the bright colours would have won through... "Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume, labuntur anni..." Anyway, never mind the slipping years, Postumus; in a more subdued palette of pale blues, lavender, taupe and muted violet the effect is absolutely wearable. I feel, anyway!

See what you think!

I added a tiny silver bell to the centre of each flower

And then, (because less is not always more!), I added a handful of extra bells to the top of each pocket edge in the front.

All that remains to accompany wearing the result, is to make some mint tea from my newly-burgeoning Moroccan mint, to be sipped from glasses, resting on the discarded original flowers that have now become Samarkand Sunflower coasters, and rustle up some rose-scented Turkish Delight.

I don't normally like Turkish Delight much, I have to say, but I am so caught up in my imagination with the "rose-candy" of the poem that I've made some*, and am eating it and dreaming of imagined exploration and adventures not yet known.

"Open the gate, O watchman of the night!
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand!"

If you fancy giving this idea a go yourself, it's quick, cheap and very easy. A good Bank Holiday Weekend project perhaps! All you need is:

- a pair of old, comfortable jeans, all the better if softened through much washing and a bit faded and frayed at the edges, or with a trendy rip or two - matters not - these are jeans for wearing and living and travelling in not for hanging up pristine in a corner somewhere.
- some washable yarn in assorted colours to suit your fancy - I used Cascade Ultra Pima cotton from my stash but anything that won't shrink when you wash the jeans will be fine.
- a hook to match the weight of the yarn - I used a 4mm one with the Cascade Ultra Pima
- a pattern for a hooky flower, preferably one that lies flat and you can make up in a couple of sizes for variety's sake. Doesn't matter if you haven't got a book of hooky flower patterns - there are lots of suitable flower patterns on the Internet. Have a trawl and pick one you like and which will suit your skills.
- tiny sew-on bells - I got my silver ones from here (£1.20 for 25 bells and very quick delivery, in case you are interested)
- a needle and sewing thread in colours to match the outer edges of your flowers

What you do:
- hook up a number of flowers - as many or as few as you like.
- pin them onto the jeans wherever you feel they would work best. Try the jeans on to check the effect.
- stitch the flowers securely in place by hand all round the outer edge of each one with the sewing thread, using small stitches and keeping the thread as invisible as possible - the crochet is very forgiving and hides the stitches well but you want to try and avoid "cats' teeth" stitches showing on the denim. If you are attaching flowers to the pockets, be careful not to stitch through all the layers of fabric or you will no longer be able to use the pockets! Guess who found that out the hard way?!

- stitch little bells in the centre of the flowers and / or wherever you like. Not on the back pockets though or "The Princess And The Pea" will have nothing on you!

- put your jeans on, "leave you the dim-moon city" and "take the Golden Road to Samarkand"! Even if in reality, the road you take is less exotic than the caravan's and more prosaic, like mine: the school run, piling through a mound of paper-work, or getting the laundry out!

*My "rose-candy" is delicious but was quite a fiddle to make (and the less said about the state of the kitchen and my saucepan afterwards, the better!) I used a Good Housekeeping recipe without gelatine, as apparently authentic Turkish Delight should not contain gelatine - I think it's properly made with mastic (as itemised in the poem) which is a kind of eastern gum. You can buy it in Greece but I've never tried a recipe with it and you can't get it easily in the UK.

The Good Housekeeping alternative used cornflour and tartaric acid (I used cream of tartar, which is not quite the same but is a derivative compound of tartaric acid - use double the quantity of cream of tartar, if substituting, for that given for tartaric acid). You boil this little lot up at length in a sugar syrup, until the starch molecules change their nature to make a wonderful, translucent jelly, and then add a spoonful of honey, some rosewater and a drop of orange oil. It tastes, as I say, very good, surprisingly good actually, and has gone down an unexpected storm with the rest of the household, but the clearing up afterwards was something else! So if you fancy a mouthful of "rose-candy" to accompany your Samarkand jeans, you might prefer to buy some rather than make it!

The peppermint tea, by contrast, is as simple as stuffing a handful of fresh Moroccan mint leaves in a tea pot, adding boiling water, leaving it for five minutes to brew and pouring into an eastern tea glass. I like it unsweetened but more authentically, I think you should add sugar. Beats any commercial peppermint tea, hands down!
E x