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Sunday, 13 July 2014

Storybook Lane


Dear readers,

Did you know that in the first written version of Goldilocks And The Three Bears, by the British author and poet Robert Southey, published in 1837, the central character was not a little girl but an unpleasant and malicious old women - a vixen of sorts?  The story at the time bore the title of The Three Bears.  It was in 1849 that Southey's intrusive old women became an intrusive girl, who bore various names referring to her fair hair.  The name Goldilocks was settled upon in the early Twentieth Century.  It would seem that children favoured a pretty, naughty girl to an ugly, old hag and I do believe that book illustrators enjoy portraying Goldilocks who fares well in most versions of this story in contrast with the original vagrant woman.
 
We have several Goldilocks in our home; I delight in opening Angélique's mind to the subtle differences in interpretation between each rendition of a fairy tale.  Let me be honest though; I have a soft spot for children's book illustrators and purchase such publications as much for my pleasure as for my children's.  The work of French artist, Charlotte Gastaut, always inspires me.  She works with contrasting colours and patterns and her attention to detail makes my heart sing.  Her Goldilocks is my absolute favourite.  There's a vintage style to her illustrations and, correct me if I am wrong, her choice of colours calls to mind traditional Russian children's tales.  Birds, butterflies and flowers pepper her pages and her characters always seem to have large, black eyes like mirrors to their innocent souls.

 I found myself drawn to this inquisitive child with her short, curly blond locks and was quite smitten with her red shoes!    One day, by chance, I found a fabric, named Storybook Lane, which shared many of the same colours and details as Gastaut's illustrations of the forest in which Goldilocks wanders and I knew I had to make my version of this little girl, a doll, of course.
 
High-spirited, a lover of flowers, and a little naughty too.  Please meet my Goldilocks who, though very different from Gastaut's, is clad in the same vibrant colours.  I had so much fun creating this small girl picking flowers in the forest, straying further and further away from her cosy home.  But she hasn't met the three bears yet.  I think I might have to make another doll wearing different clothes and colours inspired by the bears' cottage.
 
Her Mary Jane shoes are fashioned from pure wool felt in cherry red and clinched with heart buttons.  Her celadon-blue pinafore has a sprinkling of hand-embroidered daisies and simple flowers and her white lawn bloomers are trimmed with French pink lace.
 
Although I am very fond of her I have slipped her into my shop for a few days.  So, if you would like to give a home to a courageous, sweet girl who is happiest when skipping amongst the trees and filling her basket with wild flowers, you may find her here.
Of course I would love to know whether you have a favourite fairy tale or Illustrator?  I am very fond of The Snow Queen and The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
 
I wish you all a wonderful weekend and thank you so much for taking the time to read my words.  I truly appreciate it.
 
Stephanie x 


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Clad In Blossom

 

Few words today, friends.  Yesterday Héloïse went to school, her heart in her mouth, to find out her Baccalauréat examination results.  Would you believe she scored a general average of 19.23 out of 20?  Not only did she obtain the highest marks in the school - Mention Très Bien + avec Félicitations du Jury - but is believed to be in the top hundred in France.  Heartfelt hugs were shared with so many teachers and I must confess I cried with shock and delight right there in the middle of all those anxious pupils and parents.  We arrived home in the early hours of this morning after celebrating with friends my beautiful daughter's success but now, unfortunately, Héloïse is nursing a very painful throat.  She really needs to rest after the past few weeks of strain, I believe.
 
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Although it is now high summer and porcelain pink Pierre Ronsard roses are gracing local high walls, paying tribute to our local Renaissance poet, I have been inspired by the exquisite apple blossom wreath which sweet Michele created for me.  Do you recall the crown of wild violets Angélique was wearing in early spring?  Michele's work is truly lovely and one flowery wreath never seems to be enough!  This artist's home overlooks a beautiful apple tree orchard which, in late spring, is cloudy with the frilliest, candiest of all pinks and creams.  I think she has captured the magical beauty of blossom to perfection; don't you? 
 
In my formidable yarn stash a few delicious skeins of silky alpaca Old Maiden Aunt sport weight in a peachy hued Blossom colourway were begging to be turned into a simple, delicate top.   Leah Thibault's Sakura Cardigan was deemed the perfect pattern.*  Peaceful knitting with the rustic luxury of Old Maiden Aunt to accompany me during the intense few weeks in late spring and early summer.
 
My Ravelry notes may be found right here.
 
The school summer holidays have started today and we are all more than ready for them.  We will be around over the course of July, greeting friends into our humble home, and away in August to Brittany.  I'd love to learn about your hopes and dreams for this summer!
 
Warmest wishes to you all,
 
Stephanie
 
* We'll never forget our sweet Sakura.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Eglantine And The Year in Books (And Giveaway Winners)

Dear readers,
    
Eglantine; soft pink petals, falling loosely when plucked, against small, bright green leaves.  Its other name, sweet-briar, comes from its faint apple scent wafting on a warm, summer wind.  Conjure up in your mind these simple, wild roses together with the summer solstice and you have yourself an idyllic landscape.  Titania's bower in A Midsummer Night's Dream was 'over-canopied with luscious woodbine, / With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine'.  This flower is also armed with stout thorns - its name, according to Katherine Swift, means 'prickly' from the Latin aculeus,  'a litle needle', by way of the Provençal aiglentina.* - and is surely the briar through which the prince fought his way to Sleeping Beauty's turret room.
Eglantine; a rag doll whose vintage cotton sheet body has been dyed with caramel tea leaves - the kitchen smelled wonderful - with braided hair in 'Treacle Toffee' alpaca and silk yarn (I'm unashamedly addicted to this), kissable cheeks, a rose-sprigged Liberty print and a golden-winged embroidered fairy faintly reminiscent of the twelve good fairies who bestowed gifts at Sleeping Beauty's christening.  Oh, and I mustn't forget her knitted shoes!  I must have made at least three pairs in different coloured yarns before settling for her plumy rose ones.  The talented doll-maker, Little Jenny Wren's pattern, which is free, may be found  here.  I love Jenny Marshall's dolls so very much and you too can fall for their undeniable charms on her Little Jenny Wren's Dolls Page on Pinterest.
And my reading material for this rose-filled month of June is Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Light Years.
"Sybil got up from bed and went to the open window; the air smelled warmly of honeysuckle and roses, there was the metallic sounds of blackbirds settling down for the night and the sky was turning apricot streaked with little molten feathery clouds. 'Look thy last on all things lovely, every hour,' came into her mind.  She leaned further out of the window and pulled a rose towards her to smell it. [...]  She was thirty-eight, and the thought that it might be a very hard labour and that she might die recurred now.  The petals of the rose began to drop; and when she let go of it, it swung back with only the stamens left."


Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Light Years (Pan Books: London, 2013) p. 127.

What a fascinating life Howard led, according to this obituary.  A very good thing, perhaps, for I could not help but notice how many details in this, the first of four volumes of The Cazalet Chronicles, are of an autobiographical nature; smuggling into the pages the author's own version of Eden.  Focusing on the pre-war years of 1937-38 Howard appeals to the childhood of many readers.  There is so much more, of course.  For those who are interested in the social context of the time the varying constrictions in the lives of middle-class women are sharply brought to modern light together with the reluctant obligations placed heavily on the shoulders of middle-class young men around whom everything seemed to revolve.  Sweet nostalgia tempered with virulent depictions of inequality and suffering.  I haven't finished reading The Light Years yet but I am grateful for the dose of English life, both in London and in the Sussex countryside, it has afforded me.
 

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Before I finally cut to the chase and announce the two giveaway winners, please wish Héloïse well for this coming week's Baccalauréat exams.  She's had a few already but this week is going to be intense!  Secondly, as I proudly announced over here last week, Tristan came top of all forty-five guitarists for his end of year exams.  I had goosebumps when he played and the parents and children broke into applause right there in that exam room.  He was, despite his stress, so very poised for a ten-year old.  A joyful moment indeed for both mother and son.

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Truly, the best thing for me about these two giveaways has been the delight of reading kind-hearted comments left by readers I had not had the pleasure of 'meeting' before.  Thank you to all of you for taking the time to write to me and for expressing your enthusiasm.  I wish, somehow, I could make each one of you a winner.

So, the winner of the Salley Mavor two art posters (offered and signed by the artist herself) and the book (a gift from  me) is Jessica Stride.

The winner of my Maytime Hare is Ali Thomson up in fair Scotland.

Congratulations dear ladies! I look forward to receiving from each of you your full postal address via Facebook or email when you have a moment.

I'll be back within the week as I have many exciting things to share with you.  Now, if you don't mind, I have a Banoffee Cheesecake to bake for Father's Day tomorrow.

With very warm wishes,

Stephanie

I'm joining in with Laura's June version of The Year In Books.

*Katherine Swift, The Morville Hours, p. 186. 


Friday, 30 May 2014

A Maytime Hare - GIVEAWAY!


Dear readers,
 
Before I launch this jolly (late) springtime giveaway please bear with me as I gently urge you to find yourselves some rhubarb and a small pot of thick sour cream to make this cake - it is truly scrumptious and holds the taste of spring in my opinion.

I am mighty glad to have carved out this precious corner of time from the organised havoc of guitar concerts, relentless choir rehearsals, theatre performances, seven music exams (for a ten-year old),  final dance shows (for my imminent school-leaver) and the long stretch of Baccalauréat examinations which have triggered as many outbreaks of eczema for Héloïse as the stage make-up she's been using.   Most of it is uplifting stuff although I would be lying if I said that voices were rarely raised in our home and sleep never broken.  Keep stitching, baking and walking, I say.  And a few chuckles and belly laughs in between the stress-ridden moments work wonders too!

I am delighted to introduce you to Spring Chick my latest limited edition hare created specifically to celebrate almost three years of blogging, nurturing precious friendships and sharing inspiration with like-minded folk.  This little lady is most definitely a nod to the kitsch and a tad quirkly. She is a Mistress of Flowers clad in early morning glimpses of patchwork fields of brilliant yellow oilseed and creamy lady's lace (just look at those bloomers!)  The month of May in our parts is usually terribly rainy and so very verdant - a hundred shades of green.  My favourite is a cross between pea-green and parrot-green; both of which feature in the Liberty fabric dress.  If I close my eyes for a moment I see garden festivals, held between sunny spells and rain clouds, cakes being baked and eaten with clotted cream. I see the white flowers of strawberries, and a colourful riot of columbines and foxgloves.  Part of me, however, is holding onto the movable feast of Easter with its entourage of early spring flowers; hence the two chicks perched on each hare limb.
 
I could go on and on... You know that, don't you?
 
Antique French creamy lace and tulle, spring flowers on a new Liberty print, bright pink satin ribbon, gold-threaded 1950s ric rac and perky chicks.  Like her or hate her she's one of a kind!

 
So, if Miss Spring Chick tickles your fancy there are THREE ways to win her and you can try all three ways to give yourselves a little extra luck.
 
First, all you have to do is to leave a comment at the end of this post.  Everybody is welcome regardless of where you live or whether you are a regular reader of Millefeuilles.
 
For a second chance, if you wish, you can SPREAD THE WORD about this giveaway on your blog or put a link in your sidebar.  Please feel free to choose the picture your prefer for that.
 
Finally, if you are on FACEBOOK, there is a post about this giveaway on my page which if you LIKE and SHARE will give you ANOTHER chance to win.  Don't forget to leave another quick comment here once you have done the deed to let me know.
 
This giveaway will close on Tuesday June 10th and I will be using the Random Number Generator to pick the winner.
 
I'm afraid the macarons are NOT included in the giveaway.  There are currently sitting in our fridge! 
 
A bientôt,
 
Stephanie

ps I have decided to announce the winner of the Salley Mavor Giveaway on June 10th, too.  This way I will be making one trip to the post office with two parcels instead of one.  Three actually.  It seems that more than a handful of you have been misled into believing the giveaway was a book instead of a beautiful poster.  I could not resist, therefore the urge to purchase a brand new copy of Mavor's book A Pocketful Of Posies - a feast of artistic inspiration - which I will be offering, together with the two posters, to the winner.

pps The book featuring in the very first picture is Vic Brotherson's Vintage Flowers which was generously gifted many moons ago by Annie over at Knitsofacto.
Sorry Gaspard.  Those macarons are not for you either.


Friday, 16 May 2014

The Year In Books: A Violet Season


Dear readers,

Before leaving for Paris this weekend to spend time with my family I am squeezing in a post after almost a month's silence.
Although the season for wild violets came to a close early April in our corner of France I have been cultivating my love for these tiny blooms with hand-dyed threads and a beautifully-penned book. 

In a recent post of mine, also dedicated to violets, the author Kathy Leonard Czepiel wrote a comment gently suggesting I read her debut novel  A Violet Season (published in 2012).  It took me two minutes to order it and two evenings to devour its two hundred and fifty odd pages.
I recall my primary school master decades ago urging us not to judge a book by its cover but his cautionary words flew out of my head when I set eyes on this pretty cover.  Fortunately, in this case, this book is both beautiful without and within.  It is also hard and frank; a dark tale of a hardscrabble life set in 1898 on a violet farm Upstate New York.  Leonard Czepiel's carefully researched and constructed novel carried me back to the turn of the twentieth century and kept my senses alive with every page I turned.  It is a finely-written tribute to late nineteenth-century women's endurance which has put in check my daily and trivial grumbles.  The booming violet industry provides a sensual backdrop to the dashed hopes and drudgery of most women who must endure the sometimes heartless decisions and subterfuge of their menfolk and teaches the reader how hardy both violets and women can be.  It is also a book delightfully stuffed with details of the everyday life of over a century ago.  Glimpses of city life provide a counterpoint to the Fletcher family's rural existence.  Household chores, Christmas traditions - violets were grown over winter, not spring - and one of the early sewing machines makes an appearance too!

I will not share the storyline of A Violet Season with you but I will say that a woman's relationship with her daughter is damaged (beyond repair?) as they both make dreadful sacrifices for their family's survival.

And the violets in the first picture above?  They are a work in progress from Blackbird Designs (I purchased the sampler chart, linen, and threads from here ) and the perfect complement to my recent reading.  The violets are stitched on Iced Cappuccino hand-dyed linen from R & R Reproductions with Weeks Dye Works floss in River Rock, Stepping Stone, and Stone colourways.
Finally, in a desire to feed Angélique's overwhelming enthusiasm for Nursery Rhymes two years ago I stumbled across Salley Mavor's stunning textile artwork through this book.  I recall showing it to my mother on one of her visits to our home and she too was in awe of this amazing artist's attention to detail and the rich colours she uses.
A few weeks ago I purchased a signed copy of Salley Mavor's Self Portrait: A Personal History of Fashion.  I was touched to receive a second copy, also autographed, which I decided with the artist's approval, to send as a gift to one of you.  This fabric relief sculpture incorporates miniature dolls which represent each year of the artist's life; each one is hand-stitched and displays a wealth of details of fashion over the past fifty years.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of this work of art together with a poster of Mavor's beautiful Blossom Fairies please leave me a comment below.  I will announce the winner in just over a week.

I hope you are all well and happy.  I dedicate this post to my American friends who are finally enjoying violets after a long winter.

I have the pleasure of joining in with Laura's May version of The Year In Books.

Stephanie xx

ps BE WARNED!  To celebrate (almost) three full years of this small blog of mine there will be a Spring Hare Giveaway on my next post.  She is blooming, kitsch and cheery in equal measures!


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Happy Easter!

Dear readers,
"This was the day for eating simnel cake, with its layers of yellow marzipan and eleven marzipan balls on top, said to signify the twelve disciples minus Judas.[...] The yellow of marzipan, the yellow of eggs, the yellow of saffron: the colour of spring."

Katherine Swift, The Morville Hours, (Bloomsbury: London, 2008) p. 101

I will keep my message short and sweet for once!  I wish you all a peaceful, Holy, happy Easter full of flowers, love, and, dare I add, chocolate.  I hope you are surrounded by your loved ones and that there is laughter and sunshine for each and every one of you.

 I am delighted to write that I am taking Héloïse, Tristan (together with his guitar), and Angélique to see my parents in England in a few days' time.  We've all been waiting eagerly for this opportunity.  Poor Mickaël, who is suffering from a Badminton induced injury, will have to stay behind and keep Gaspard the dog company.
To celebrate Easter I have created a springtime hare whose name is Primrose Pascaline.  An egg yolk yellow flowery skirt, embroidered apple blossom and violets on her ankles and a pair of bloomers made from a patchwork of spring flower fabrics.  My favourite fabric of all is the Liberty you can spot on her Easter egg filled skirt pocket.  It has pretty cowslips on it! 

If you are interested in giving her a home you may find her here.

I should add that I intend to cease hare-making production in the near future.  'Hurrah', some of you might cheer!  All good things come to an end.  And new doors open, I believe.

Happy weekend to you all,

Stephanie

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Gently Does It

Dear readers,

Since my previous post I've had to give up any foolish hopes of holding on to early spring.  It's full steam ahead from now on: purple-tinged irises, an abundance of trailing wisteria covering honey-coloured high walls and filling the air with their sweet scent, lily of the valley, lilac, poppies, roses tumbling open against barely unfurled greenery.  All are jostling for attention against a delightful backdrop of carnival-hued tulips with silky petals.  "Look at me, look at us!" they clamour silently.  The primroses are still gracing us with their demure presence.  We must, sadly, bid farewell to the daffodils, narcissi, and wild violets for yet another year.  We are no longer at the awakening of spring but reaching the heady heights of a green countryside punctuated with the brilliance of flowers.  It calls to mind Botticelli's Primavera which depicts Zephyrus hot in pursuit of sparsely clad Chloris, the virginal Greek personification of Spring, and her subsequent transformation into Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, crowned with blossom, her robe embroidered with pinks and roses, her arms filled with flowers.

Fortunately, I can hold on to those early spring flowers thanks to Silke Leffler's charming illustrations in the children's book below.  Her visual personification of plants always delight me.
Spring so far has brought its fair share of challenges.  Will this be the year we finally sell our fisherman's cottage by the sea after six years of legal struggles?  When will we finally be able to purchase our own home here near Tours? We've also been endeavouring to nuture Héloïse during this Baccalauréat year both physically and emotionally.  She is hoping to leave France in September to take up her offer at Durham University which is thrilling, of course.  However, the complexity of the paperwork involved is challenging my desire to remain serene! Although the pros of living between two countries clearly outweigh the cons the journey is rarely straightforward at the outset.

But that is life, as I am sure you will agree, and there are so many treasure around to enjoy.  Our first visit to the gardens of Villandry this year with its complex boxtree parterres playing shadow games on the fine gravel with sunlight and birdsong everywhere.  The persistant call of the cuckoo.  A harp recital held in the Tours Fine Arts Museum one evening listening to Domenico Scarlatti's music surrounded by eighteenth-century paintings with an enthralled Tristan squeezing my arm.  Actually, there have been a number of concerts this season; each different and all wonderful.  It's good to watch a four-year old Angélique as absorbed by the music as her siblings.
There are two cherry trees in our garden: one is covered with thick pink puffiness the colour of my mother's homemade strawberry ice-cream and frilled with yellow nascent leaves.  The other, fully clothed in pure white, provides us with gentle drifts of petals.  "Look, it's snowing!' cry the children in delight.  But even as I write today the latter has shed its beauty, and the pink wonder is dropping flurries of petals too.  It's all too ephemeral but the lunches beneath the cherry-tree branches this week have been committed to family memory.
And together with the cherry trees and spring comes a surge of inspiration.  Tell me, is this happening to you too?  I am determined to hold on to this natural beauty and the colours by slowly and surely weaving them into my creative projects.  However as I painstakingly stitched Fleur de Cerisier, my cherry blossom doll, with a vintage cotton sheet hand-dyed in Easter tea (such a delicious smell), I realised that my dollmaking skills need to be worked on.  I really need to make more refined facial features!  My initial frustration and disappointment with my completed doll were, fortunately, replaced by the desire to improve my abilities with the next one; to create a completely new pattern.  It is a thrilling thing this creative journey which involves paradoxical feelings of 'this is going to be amazing' to 'oh no, it's really bad' and then back full circle to 'it's pretty good, actually'.
When your creative skills fail you, you can always bake a simple cake with crystallised spring flowers (brushed with egg white and gently coated in white sugar) and eat it under the flowering cherry tree.  
Food for the soul!

So tell me, do you lose confidence in your creative abilities sometimes?  If so, how do you deal with it?

Warmest wishes to you all for a beautiful spring in full flower.

I aim to return soon.

Stephanie

ps I am in two minds about selling Fleur de Cerisier.  If you would like to give her a home just leave me a comment or e-mail me.  Thank you so much.
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