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Sunday, 12 October 2014

My Marrakech Patchwork - Around The World Blog Hop

Dear readers,
 
The colourful chaos and mad energy of the Imperial city of Marrakech has made a lasting impression on me.  It held me in the grip of its feverish imagination.  A thousand-year-old carnival with a multitude of soothsayers and storytellers, acrobats and orange juice sellers winding their way through the labyrinth of alleyways in the ancient Medina or settling instead for an evening on the great Jemma el Fna Square, the pulsing heart of the city.  Marrakech is part authentic history book and part storybook filled with bright, bold and intricate illustrations.  Marrakech is also overwhelming, disturbing and at times unpleasant.  And perhaps, that is why it appeals to me; it is a never-ending, exhausting paradox which leaves little room for bland thoughts.  I found in the sights, smells and sounds of Marrakech the definition of Baroque - a pearl of irregular shape - and fell for its innumerable irregular charms.  And yet the heart of Marrakech remains, in a sense, on an elemental level: in its light and earth and water and the importance held for its population scratching a living within its hectic walls.
 
I left Morocco after three long days both thoughtful and inspired.  On my arrival home I was greeted by a kind message from the very talented Debbie, who blogs over at The Crimson Rabbit, inviting me to participate in the Around The World Blog Hop.  I accepted, of course, and was delighted to learn that Debbie was first and foremost a writer who now fills her days with creating and designing; we really do share some common ground!  So, I will endeavour to answer the four questions about my creativity whilst keeping hold of the inspiration of Marrakech.

 1. What am I working on?
 
This week Autumn struck with a wet bang after a long, sun-drenched September.  As the rain fell I experienced my first creative 'failure'.  After two years of running my tiny business of creating heirloom toys I completed a hare, Mademoiselle Lavender, who did not make my heart sing.  It was terribly unsettling.  With a loss of confidence in my creative ability, how could I continue to work on the growing list of customer orders?  So, I followed a friend's advice and set my mind to creating something completely different - you will see it just below - and fortunately it has helped blow the cobwebs clean away. 
 
My memories of Marrakech have become fragmented over the past fortnight; shards of brightly coloured glass.  I am a lover of detail - I hope the pictures of Marrakech above convey this - invariably opting for close-up scrutiny.  On my return to France I noticed that early Autumn was very much like a patchwork of bright colours vying with subdued hues.  Late summer flowers, often boisterous and even gaudy, cohabiting with autumnal fruit hanging heavily from trees.  A kaleidescope of turning leaves outdoing the still green ones.  The paths, made muddy, between endless rows of yellowing vines as grape harvest begins.  And the sunrises growing technicoloured with the promise of  early morning rain.  I wanted to hold onto my memories of our holiday and also perhaps to the vestiges of summer and I decided, somehow, to create a  piece of clothing for Angélique using the simplest patchwork.  Most of the Liberty and batik fabrics I snipped and stitched were remnants of tiny clothes made for hares and mice created over the past two years.

It was painstaking work, a small labour of love of sorts.  I have never before used up so many spools of thread and now my respect for accomplished patchworkers has increased tenfold.  In truth I enjoyed this creative process which comes as no surprise as it is all about detail, isn't it?  And now I can visualise a whole series of these; one for each season, for example.  I have the most stunning snowflake fabric for a winter one...
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
 
I am sure that many of those who read my blog have noticed that I work according to themes.  As a child Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker fascinated me with its chocolate, coffee and tea dances.  The idea that music could be composed to create a visual image intrigued and inspired me.  A quick glance at past posts will reveal a strong desire to collect thoughts and images around a certain colour or idea.  I am quite incapable of doing things any other way.  I love the fact, for instance, that knitters on Ravelry must give a name to each of their projects.  I always enjoy dreaming up a theme when I am knitting.  A shawl can become a traditional English pudding, a flower or, perhaps, a fairytale character.  Add the delight of colours and choice of fibres and I am halfway to Heaven.

Each of my heirloom toys is created according to a theme.  One will capture the essence of midwinter, another the nostalgia of a summer garden.  I spend hours mulling over colour combinations and how, with embroidery, I can best capture the image I wish to represent; mistletoe for Christmas and tiny violets for spring.  Sometimes I can spend far too much time dithering over choices.  I recall making a Goldilocks rag doll, inspired by one of my favourite French illustrators, Charlotte Gastaut, and spending hours hesitating between embroidered porridge bowls or tiny bears sitting on red chairs.  In the end I chose neither!  I think that my fascination for detail works its way into my creations.

Finally, I will add that the majority of my work is inspired by my love of gardens.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

As a writer - my specialities are garden and performing arts aesthetics - I attempt, through words, to honour the beauty created by others.  This may seem overly simple but beauty is essential to me.  It is also entirely subjective and yet, I firmly believe, we are all capable of communicating through words, music, and any other art form, our own vision of beauty thereby sharing it with others.  So, the desire to create stems from a need to share our sense of aesthetics.  I'm back again with Tchaikovsky and his ability to create images with music.  For example, one of my thesis chapters, later adapted for a Hortus Magazine article, was centred around Louis XIV's potager gardener, Jean de La Quintinie, in Versailles.  Naturally I touched upon his gardening techniques and accomplishments but I revelled mostly in the poetic language he used to describe the array of apples and pears he cultivated behind those high garden walls in Versailles.  Indeed, his thousand page treatise is simply beautiful to read.  De La Quintinie was able to make the king's garden flourish and well as describing in his own words the aesthetic value of a pear.  He was a most gifted man.

My mother used to remind me as a child of the importance of performing a good deed on a daily basis.  Nowadays I measure my days by how much beauty I have shared with others; even if it is just a freshly baked cake or a bunch of wildflowers! 
4. How does my writing/creative process work?
 
Whilst in Marrakech we first entered the Souk around midnight on Saturday.  On returning there the following day I was dismayed to find myself experiencing a mild anxiety attack.  For those who have not yet visited Marrakech the Souk is an intricate labyrinth of ramshackle alleys with corrugated iron roofs bursting at the seams with handmade goods, people and at times dubious-looking vehicles and, yes, donkeys too.  It is also of course a retelling of One Thousand And One Nights; a colourful and enchanting experience which quite simply sucks you in.  I was afraid I would never find my way out.  I also have the story my mother recounted of a friend who took his bride decades ago to Marrakech for their honeymoon only to lose her in the Souk.  She was never seen again!
 
My creative mind is a little like that Souk.  I mostly think in a complex, convoluted manner; straight lines baffle me.  And like the Souk my head is constantly brimming with creativity.  Many of my ideas are large-scale and detailed; that's the thesis writer in me.  If I were happy with straight lines I would probably write lists, but, I don't.  I rarely jot my ideas down either which is quite odd for a writer. I do possess a plethora of beautiful notebooks, many of which are filled with scribbled garden history research notes, and I do hope that some day soon I will set down in words my creative thoughts.  I don't write them down because as a mother of three my time is always limited and so I prefer to spend it simply creating. 

Whilst my project ideas remain in my head rather than on paper I approach them with the same meticulous planning I used to organise my lessons during my seventeen years of teaching; the same applies to my blog posts.  However, like the majority of teachers, I know that some of the best lessons are created spontaneously.  I love that element of surprise despite the fact that a graphologist in Paris once told me that I was wary of the unexpected!

We live in a fairly small home which is ideal in the sense that my working inspiration - my books, yarn, threads and fabric - surround me constantly giving me the visual stimulation I require for thinking up new projects.  So, in short, my working process happens in my head whilst the children natter to me and whilst I organise our daily lives.  I think that makes me very similar to a lot of other mothers, don't you?

Finally, I always work on one creative project at the time in a dogged fashion - I'm not good at multitasking - and I always relish long stretches of quiet time during which I work meticulously and also try out new techniques.

Now, I must choose three other ladies who inspire me creatively to join in the Around The World Blog Hop although there is absolutely no pressure ladies, please!

Lori at Lori Times Five
Amélie at Bateaux de papier: a Diary for Elsa
and
Susan over at Mary Jane's Tearoom

Thank you, as always, for taking the time to visit me here.  I appreciate every single comment and mail I receive so very much.  Thank you also for bearing with me today.  I'm not terribly good at writing about myself but it was a honour to be invited by Debbie.

Marrakech photo credits: Céline Haudebourg, one of our dear travelling companions who designs the most exquisite bridal gowns and, like myself, is a lover of detail.  I leave you with one last picture:
Guess who?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Double-Edged Sword

I had decided this was going to be my last post.  I gave myself time to reflect and whilst my mind was saying one thing my heart was telling me another.  So what if we are all busy bouncing between family, real life and the evergrowing expanse of social networking?  Never mind if this small space of mine is attracting less comments than before.  When it comes to the crunch I cannot forget the valuable connection made with precious souls through this blog and theirs.  Wonderful, inspring ladies have expressed my mixed feelings so much more eloquently than I could, both here and here.  I will, for the time being, stay here with gratitude for the friendships and inspiration offered to me in these past three years.
 
September has been glorious; continuous mellow, dusty heat with ripening apples, pears and grapes.  It has also been hard.  A precious member of my family was unexpectedly taken ill two weeks ago causing us all to scurry hither and thither, drawing ever closer in love.  I've been left with feelings of gratitude for my parents and siblings, again, but fear of inevitable, impending mortality too.  And that is why, perhaps, this September I have finally put my finger on my usual reticence to embrace autumn.  As the meadows and countryside change colour around us we find the shimmery hues of autumn leaves thrilling.  But in a sense they dupe us for they signal death and disintegration.  In time they will become fragile and return to dust.   Leaves sublime from one beautiful state to another - much as some religions tell us we will - and as they lose their green life they bloom with urgent colours.  "Carpe Diem', they seem to whisper.  This early autumn I hear their message loud and clear.  Life is precious and I intend to honour its beauty in my humble, happy manner.
 
I leave you with a palette of greens, yellows and plums.  Happy autumn friends!  Because, despite my sombre words, it really is a precious season.

 Featured above:
 
Alaria Shawl knit with divine Skein yarn Merino Cashmere Fingering in Sunspot.  My Ravelry notes are here.
 
Mademoiselle Apple And BlackBerry Crumble who is off to start a new life in Australia.
 
Mickäel and I are off to Marrakech next weekend for a short stay.  I hope to return with a few pictures to share with you all.
 
Warmest wishes to you all.
 
Stephanie

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,
 
Stephanie

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.
 
Stephanie 
 
* 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.
 
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