Sunday, 31 August 2014

Gift From The Sea

 "The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think [...] - at least, not at first. [...] the tired body takes over completely.  As on shipboard, one descends into a deck-chair apathy.  One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. [...] And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes,comes to life again. [...]  It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach.  One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up."

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From The Sea (Pantheon Books: New York, 1955), pp. 15-16.
Dear friends,
On returning  from our holidays in Belle Ile en Mer a few days ago, I found a parcel from Stephanie over at Woolythyme; an exquisite knitted shell together with the book, Gift From The Sea, quoted above.  It was, simply, the perfect gift to receive after our time away by the sea.  I have already touched upon the enchanting beauty of this Breton island last yearCountless thoughts and adjectives spring to mind when I look back on those precious weeks.  Sometimes returning to the same place twice with the same fellow travellers can be a little risky.  Will it be as wonderful as the last time?  Will the place hold the same magic still?  Of course, we needn't have been concerned.  The air was still as pure, the weather as gloriously clement and the seafood as delectable.  However, if I am honest, the predominant emotion I am left with is gratitude.  Not for this island (I've always really wished I could live an entire year there) nor for the salty air and glittering sand but for my family.  It's hard not to get emotional whilst writing these words.  As many of you know from personal experience, it isn't easy living in a different country from the majority of your loved ones.  I prefer to put these regrets to one side and to feel deep, deep gratitude for having a family in which EVERYBODY gets on so very, very well.   All those lengthy conversations, silly jokes and long, long hugs have left me feeling calm - I'll admit, it took me quite a while to relax this summer - and positive.  Perhaps the person I hugged the hardest was my father - can you believe he will be turning ninety-two in a couple of months?- and my wonderful mother too, of course!  It is thanks to their love for us all and their generosity that that we were able to spend these days together.
And so I am back home. There are new adventures around the corner, many animals - not just hares - to create and an exciting business venture I'm so thrilled about.   Until I return with more news I will share, below, a few pictures of recent knits.  Because when there are holidays there is time to knit and read, and read and knit.

The Duck Egg Blue cardigan Angélique is wearing is a new pattern by Georgie Hallam called Posy.  If you'd look closely you'd find the odd grain of glittering sand and wisps of dried grass from Belle Ile as I knit this pretty much everywhere we went.  I even took it on a four-hour boat trip around the island although it was far to windy to wrestle with four double pointed needles!  The flower meadow, incidentally, is not the one in Belle Ile but another, equally beautiful, a few minutes' stroll from our home.
The baby cardigan was a gift for the hotel manager's wife who has a eight-month old daughter named Valentine.  I wanted to show my gratitude for the summer job Héloïse had been offered in Belle Ile.  The pattern is my third version of Dani Sunshine's Bella and I still love it as much as my first attempt.

My Ravelry notes for both knits may be found here and here.

Tomorrow is school and I would like to wish all parents and children a very happy new school year.  Finally, whilst I've been away from the computer for the best part of a month I have finally joined Instagram and am thoroughly enjoying it!  Would you like to come and say hello?
I am hugely looking forward to visiting your blogs again.
A bientôt,

Friday, 1 August 2014

Dancing With Summer Flowers

 Dear readers,
What an interesting summer it has been so far!  Almost four weeks after the last of three cases of Scarlet Fever in our family I think it is safe for me to proclaim jubilantly that Tristan and I have trumped this unpleasant and rather vintage illness. The sore throat Héloïse started on the day of her Baccalauréat results was the first symptom of Scarlet Fever, poor child.  All is well now.  Héloïse left, a week behind schedule, to start her first summer job in a splendid hotel on the island of Belle Ile en Mer and the rest of us have been relishing the tough, resilient Paradise of high summer in Touraine.  There is nothing fey or delicate about blooming fists of lavender.  "Yikes!" I say out loud, in a mixture of delight and confusion when I observe our fast-growing garden.  Let us say that weeks of intense sunlight and rainfall have been a boon to all plant life.
I love the way the garden becomes an outside room during the summer months.  Our small house grows bigger.  Evenings spent with special friends, barely able to hear the trilling crickets over our shrill laughter.  Candles in holders casting lacework shadows over our lichen-covered cherry tree.  Another bottle of champagne?  Why not!  It will help us forget the latent threat of voracious mosquitos.  The food we eat is simple and good.  Shortcrust tarts with goat's cheese, tomato and basil.  Greek salad with just enough red onion and a big fistful of dill.  Luscious apricots and peaches are always piled up high in our fruit bowl.  They must be gobbled up fast; the hot, humid weather spoils them quickly.  My current favourite - and Tristan's too - is a tart made with peaches and a few sprigs from our lavender bush.*  The secret is to mix in a few lavender flowers only.
Summer is the song everyone is humming and I, perhaps, more loudly than all. Victoria Finlay's fascinating book, Colour, has inspired me to play with the bright and vibrant this season, even more than usual.  I stayed up far too late last night reading her chapter on Orange (my least favourite colour).  'Dance the orange,' the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a wonderful waltzing poem about a fruit and a colour that pretend to be sweet but are actually rambunctious and challenging.  Last night's compelling read transported me to the city of Cremona in Italy where, around 1750, the secret of how Antonio Stradivari made the orange varnish for his instruments was lost.  Doubtless, I will be writing about this book again in the future.
In the meantime the pictures below testify to my love affair with summery colours and Liberty fabrics which I always purchase from this, my favourite online shop.
Angélique's dress fabric is Floral Eve, from the Spring & Summer 2013 collection.  The pattern is  Suzanne from the French Citronille pattern and fabric shop.  Amazing, beautiful, easy patterns which can be purchased in English.  I know that Soule Mama and Posie gets Cozy are huge fans too.  And that beautiful floral wreath?  Another success from the talented Michele from Amore Bride.

Summer has also brought a dose of magic.  For those who have not read this little story over on my Madame Millefeuilles page, you will find it here.
Tomorrow is Mickaël's birthday.  Tomorrow we set off for Brittany where the next chapter of our summer begins.  Next week I am hoping to, finally, upgrade my mobile telephone in order to join in with the Instagram fun.
Happy August, dear friends.
* It's easy as pie to make.  The usual shortcrust pastry first, and then slice a few peaches or nectarines which need to me mixed gently with 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder, 100 g of sugar, I tablespoon of lavender buds, I teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of sea salt.  Pop the tart into the oven - preheated at 180°C/375°F - for around 30 minutes after having dotted a few nobs of butter onto the peaches.

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.
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,
* 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.


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.


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,


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

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

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