Sunday 30 October 2011

D is for Damson, Dahlia, and a Delicious Dilemma

I was woken up in the middle of the night on Friday by a scratching sound by my bedside.  Since our lovely cat Sakura's death a fortnight ago I have heard the mice dancing a jig in our attic so I was a little fearful of what I might find when I opened a weary eye.  I need not have feared for I found Dahlia The Rabbit  standing on the tip of her long toes and shivering.
"What ever is the matter?" I managed to mumble.
"I'm cold", she replied. "These trousers you made last week are fine and dandy for prancing about on stage but I would be grateful for something warmer now the nights are so frosty".

I nodded sagely and went back to sleep until Angélique woke me up a little while later.  It was still dark but my conscience geared me into making a little something warmer for Dahlia and I smiled as I knitted for I reminded myself of the Elves and the Shoemaker although much bigger in size of course.

Dahlia is delighted with her overalls and she happily declared them damson in colour.
"Why not?" I smiled for they do remind me a little of the damson's shining black-purple coats with matt blue overlay.
Dahlia urged me to write down the very simple pattern I concocted in the dead of night so should any of you wish to make this adorable Helen Philipps' rabbit you too might be able to dress it warmly.

So for those who are interested you will find my Dahlia's Overalls pattern at the end of this post.

And now for the delicious dilemma!

For the first time in years my dearest husband will have a week off between Christmas and the New Year.  Can you imagine our excitement?  After our weekly family meeting we decided we would like to head off in search of snow somewhere in the mountains.  The Alps seemed the obvious destination.  My mother's family is from Savoie and whilst I spent all my childhood holidays there I have lived by the sea for many years in Normandy and have not so much as glimpsed a mountain for far too long.

It is time to return.
We have searched for a gîte and it was my husband who came up with the following idea:

"Why don't we look for a roulotte (gypsy caravan) on a mountain top?"
   He knows me well.  You see, dear readers, one of my dreams when we finally buy a house and garden of our own in the Loire Valley is to also own a gipsy caravan, decorated by ourselves, which would serve to house visiting friends, host birthday parties for the children, and maybe even serve as an extra B&B room.

So this is what we found.  Please take a peep and tell me honestly what you think.  Bear in mind that at Christmas there will be snow on the ground as it is located between Chamonix and Geneva.  Do you think, as a family of five, we would be nuts to sejourn there for a week?  We generally get on pretty well although we are not perfect, of course.  For those who read French you will see there is a farm nearby which would be wonderful for the children.

 I am waiting for your thoughts on this delightful dilemma.
Until then I shall leave you with a picture of my newest acquisition:
My fabulous Fairysteps shoes!

Despite my deceptively large legs displayed here I feel like a fairy when wearing these for they fit like a kid glove and make me feel as if I am walking on air.

Have a heavenly week walking on air and welcome to my new followers!  I should have some good news to share with you in my next post!

A bientôt,


And here as promised is my humble pattern:

Dahlia's Overalls
I used Rowan Felted Tweed (so very soft) and a pair of US 4 (3.5mm) needles.

make 2
Cast on 34 stitches
Knit 2 rows
Starting with a K row knit 24 rows in stocking stitch (or more should you wish for longer trousers)
Cast off 2 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows to shape the crotch
Knit a further 22 rows in stocking stitch
Next rowm *K6 K2 tog* repeat ** 3 times, K6 (27 stitches)
Purl 1 row
Knit 2 rows
Cast off. 

make 1
Cast on 20 stitches
Row 1: Knit 1 row
Row 1: K2, P to last 2 stitches, K2
Row 3: Knit
Row 4: K2, P2 tog, P to last 4 sts, P2 tog, K2
Repeat the last 4 rows 3 times (12 stitches)
Knit 3 rows
Cast off

make 2
Cast on 4 stitches
Working in Garter stitch, knit 24 rows.
Cast off.

To sew up overalls.

With right sides together, fold each leg in half lengthways and sew up leg seam.
Turn one leg right way out and fit this one insdie the other.  Sew up crotch seam and turn right side out.
Sew bib to front of trousers.  
Sew one edge of each strap to the back of the overalls, about 1 cm either side of the centre seam, cross straps over at the back and sew the other end to the top of the bib at the front, overlapping 1cm.  Sew a button ont he end of each strap although these will not undo.


Sunday 23 October 2011

The show must go on!

I am deeply touched by the empathy each of you expressed in your comments on my last post.  Every comment was received with tears of gratitude and you have all supported my children in their grieving process.

Thank you to Kate from harmony and rosie for suggesting the Judith Kerr books, Charlottesplot for giving me the reference to Marry Fedden's books, and Jo for telling me about the Rainbow Bridge Poem.  There were tales of mourned pets and helium balloons from Annie, gentle, hopeful hints of a future pet from lovely Isabelle (who is expecting her first child and is knitting up a storm) while Pat encouraged us all to laugh at Sakura's funny antics through our tears.  I loved Jeanne's reference to Voltaire, which I read several times, and I am grateful to Sara (anonymous) for her heartfelt messages and her suggestion to plant a rosebush.
I read your messages of hope and sympathy to my children and we agreed we would plant a cherry tree for Sakura when we were settled in a house and garden of our own.  
Tristan, who is seven years old, painted these flowers on A3 paper to thank you all.
We all heartily agree that the show must go on. 
 With a roll of drums and a few clashing cymbals here is Dahlia my autumnal rabbit.

This little androgynous creature is straight from Helen Philipps' last book.  You can see one of her rabbits on her blog here.
 He/She was delightfully easy to make and calls out for a generous collection of outfits to be rustled up.  The little cardigan was a free pattern suggested by Barbara.
 I urge you all to make one.  My fingers are itching to sew up a shelf full of different coloured rabbits.  There are so many beautiful coloured linens to be found. Dahlia has woven her magic over me (I think she is a 'she', don't you?) and has made me quite chirpy this week.  'Merveilles' (as seen on the book cover) or enchantment help us dance through our everyday lives.  Dahlia would be in her element prancing about on stage, I think.
And here she is posing as a bookish 'Princess and the Pea'.

Have a wonderful week full of 'merveilles' or enchantment.
A bientôt,

Sunday 16 October 2011


Dear all,

Our kitten was born in March 2010 around the time when the wild cherry trees were flowering.  We named her Sakura as she reminded us of the foaming white Japanese cherry blossom.  We were also aware that Sakura symbolised the ephemeral nature of life.

We did not realise of course how fleeting our sweet cat's life would be.

Sakura died on Saturday morning and I am certain you can all imagine how sad we are.

I am simply relieved she is no longer suffering.  

The flowers (with dahlias, naturally) above were picked by the children to put on Sakura's grave which is in an idyllic spot in the woods by the vineyards.  The weather was heavenly and the children wrapped up poems they had written and gifts to accompany her.

We shall get through this grief together but if any of you have any tips on how to help the children along I would love to hear from you. It was their first cat, you understand.

Sakura was a gentle soul who reflected back ALL the love our children gave her.

Sakura napping two months ago

I will return soon with happier thoughts.

I wish you ALL a peaceful week with joyful moments.

A bientôt,


Sunday 9 October 2011

Of Bright Hues and Cheering Books

Are you sitting comfortably?

I am in need of a little solace tonight as our gentle, barely-out-of-kittenhood cat, Sakura, has returned from an overnight stay at our local vet.  Forgive me for being prejudiced but there is this not-so-friendly black cat who stalks our neighbourhood, feared by all, who first chased our innocent feline (who is not so good at practising self-defence) around the houses and then dug her claws into her leg.This resulted in the most unsightly and, I imagine, very painful infection.  I am sure the vet has done a marvellous job but she is not quite out of danger yet.  It is daunting to see an animal suffering and to witness the children's sadness.

I shall move on to more cheering thoughts and ask you all  a deep and meaningful question;

 What do these colours conjure up in your mind's eye?

Think a moment... and tell me...
I see....


 Yes, those cheery hued embroidery threads bring to mind dahlias and quite possibly Chrysanthemums but could we please wait a while before thinking about Chrysanthemums?  They will be forever associated with La Toussaint - All Saint's Day - here in France and the splendid, somewhat gaudy bunches of flowers dotting those rather austere French cemetries.

These dahlias guard the entry of Chaumont Château with bright determination.

When I am in need of much cheering and a little instruction I turn to one of my favourite books which resides by our humble fireplace.  This book has been picked up by many guests (possibly weary of our post-dinner art of conversation) sighed and smiled over and jotted down on many a book wishlist.  "The Ivington Diaries" by Monty Don.  Now, some of my British readers may be rolling their eyes a little thinking such thoughts as 'goodness, I've had that book for ages'.  I apologise but I must confess to being a profound admirer of Montague Don. 

Before acquiring "The Ivington Diaries" I first read "The Jewel Garden" .  I was fascinated by the concept of a garden inspired by jewels.  Incidentally don't you think Dahlias are rather jewel-like in colour?  This book is the story of the garden that over the past few years has bloomed from the muddy fields around the Dons' Tudor farmhouse, a perfect metaphor for Monty and his wife Sarah's own rise from the ashes of the spectacular commercial failure of their fashionable jewel business in the 1980s. It was a quick and pleasurable read which gave me a taste for the beauty of Monty Don's writing.  

Wanting more I then devoured the more substantial "The Ivington Diaries" , published in 2009, a book with heavy creamy paper and splendid colourful photographs taken by Monty Don himself.  It is a month-by-month account of his work in the Herefordshire garden which he created with his wife from 1992 onwards.  This gardening space has been central to Monty's well-being and beautifully put down in words.  His passion for gardening shines through together with his need for consolation and a strong devotion to his (dare I say) patient wife, Sarah.

This is also a book you can dip into and so tonight I searched for Monty Don's thoughts on dahlias.  This is one of the jottings I found and I urge you, should you find yourself beginning to nod off, to read at least the second paragraph, please:

13 September 2003

Show dahlias are like Ascot hats.  They come out only for the big occasion.  But they got a bad reputation amongst those who care about reputations for being somehow a bit naff and lacking in the subtlety necessary to appeal properly to sophisticated tastes.  The truth is probably cruder.  Dahlias were considered common and vulgar in the same way that gladioli, hybrid tea roses and hanging baskets are still frowned upon.  Nowadays 'Bishop of Llandaff' is allowed within the inner circle of good taste, and perhaps 'Arabian Night', but as exceptions that prove the ghastly rule.  This is, of course, pure snobbery, and stupid snobbery at that.  For all the democratisation of gardening through television, there is still a ridiculous streak of aspirational snobbery that runs throught too many back gardens.  I hate it.

And I love dahlias.  They are undiluted fun.  The deep, dark ones are velvety and voluptuous like the inside of a bordello, and the bright, garish pinks, yellows and oranges have the 1950s sumptuous joyfulness of Monroe or Bardot.  They come as tight, minimal pompons of flower or clumsy starbursts of petal.  They can be childishly simple or mathematically complex.  They are busy plants, giving out more energy than almost any other.

 Beautifully written, don't you think?  

 So this is a tribute to those Monroe and Bardot-like dahlias cultivated by a charming man who cut us a bunch and donated a generous-sized butternut squash (which was devilishly hard to carry home with a wriggling, screaming toddler).

If all dahlia growers are as kind and cheery as this gentleman then I say three cheers for dahlias!


As an end-note to this VERY lengthy post I would also like to recommend a wonderful book I have just finished; Barbara Trapido's "Sex and Stravinsky".  It is a superb concoction of fairytale and opera written in a brisk and substantial style.  Whilst Stravinsky features as a leitmotiv there is virtually no sex to be found so I suppose the title was chosen mostly for its alliteration.  I found the style and the storyline whisked me along at almost breakneck speed from Oxford to South Africa. Give it a try if you do not know it already?

I was also delighted to discover that my giveaway gifts found a loving, enthusiastic artist's home .  Go see for yourselves as Vanessa has just had these STUNNINGLY beautiful cards of her work printed.  I also discovered from her photographs that, by a strange quirk of magic, she has chosen the very same yarn for her Never Not Knitting pattern as I am knitting up right now for another (simpler) Never Not Knitting pattern. 

Love to you all and have a peaceful happy week with plenty of time for reading and creating.

Sunday 2 October 2011

A freespirited Curly Locks in the gardens of Valmer Château

Welcome to Valmer Château Gardens!

I am fortunate that this little corner of paradise has become so familiar since moving to the Loire Valley over two years ago.  The owners, Alix and Aymar de Saint Venant, are warmhearted, hospitable as well as being formidable experts in horticulture and wine-growing.

Today the gardens celebrated the last weekend of a long, fruitful season before closing to the public until the following April.  The weather was glorious and we were blessed with the intensity of early autumn light.
The charm of the four acres of Italian Renaissance-styled pleasure gardens with their complex terraced system is undeniable.  However it is to the sixteenth-century kitchen gardens that I am drawn every single time I return.
The ingenuity of proportion and design meant that by the seventeenth century the kitchen garden -extending to two and a half acres - were completely invisible from the château and other gardens, including the Léda terrace which rises above the potager by almost twenty feet.  This was, of course, intentional.  This garden is enclosed within high stone walls with two circular towers originally built to house gardeners and tools.  The central steps which descend from the Léda terrace into the kitchen gardens did not exist in the seventeenth-century plans and so gardeners and cooks were obliged to use a small flight of steps built in the north-facing wall to lug salads and leeks to kitchens.
In France the eighteenth century turned things round for potagers.  While Jean-Jacques Rousseau extolled the virtues of nature in Versailles the Fashion Queen Marie-Antoinette built a farm at the Petit Trianon and dressed up her sheep in pink bows.  Kitchen gardens became à la mode and consequently at Valmer the wall was opened out and majestic stone steps, descending directly from the Léda terrace, were added.  This meant that eighteenth-century onlookers could admire this garden of produce as they strolled around the terraced lawns in their fancy clothes.
There is no doubt that in the twenty-first century Valmer's potager is also in l'air du temps.  The success of Madame de Saint Venant's sumptuous book, published in 2010, testifies to this opinion.
Before descending the stone flight of steps into the garden it is a good idea to pause and gaze over the potager as a whole.   When I do this I am reminded of a poignant childhood memory of pressing my nose close to our local sweet-shop window and yes, drooling at the sheer variety of treats displayed.  The delicious anticipation of choosing which sweets I would leave the shop with is also captured here at Valmer for these gardens, situated in the very heart of France, are so very atypical.  Mme de Saint Venant wholeheartedly urges all visitors to smell, stroke, and taste all her produce; vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers alike.  In short, they are invited to become active participants in the garden by carousing with all five senses.
My children relish this freedom each and every time.
This time they were not alone.
Today we were joined by Curly Locks!
This young lady has been hard to pin down.  Apparently,according to the nursery rhyme, Curly Locks was eligible for high-society marriage due to her curly hair which would afford her the luxury of sitting on a cushion whilst sewing a fine seam and gorging herself upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.  Her locks would free her from the obligation of washing dishes (lucky girl) and feeding swine.
 Our Curly Locks, however, is freespirited and refuses to be tied down to a cushion.  She shows no interest in seams and could do with a few lessons from Cathleen at My Sewing Serenity
 She prefers instead to run freely through the kitchen gardens at Valmer and pitch in and help the gardeners...
climb trees and pick apples.
And who can blame her at such a tender age?  
She is in excellent hands with Alix de Saint Venant and her team of spirited gardeners passing on their horticultural skills.
I am sure she will also find the time to wander through the pleasure gardens...
smell the flowers and enjoy being young, footloose and fancy free.
Before we left today after a glass of grape juice and a lengthy chat with Mme de Saint Venant Curly Locks whispered in my ear that she would very much like to stay at Valmer and to be sure to let you dear readers know that this lady won the Nursery Rhyme Giveaway.  Please could you send my your e-mail address so that I can send you the Never Not Knitting pattern of your choice?
A bientôt, says Curly Locks!

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