Sunday 23 December 2012

La Vie En Rose

Dear readers,
On the Winter Solstice, which also happens to be our ninth wedding anniversary, I had a few hours of peace and a burning desire to sew a Christmas gift for Angélique.  I simply wanted to create something from my heart and to embrace its imperfections.  Noëlle The Cat was born.  She is made from a beautiful piece of raspberry pink linen and a tiny piece of festive fabric with candy canes, snowmen, gingerbread men, and hearts.  I embroidered a smattering of holly leaves on her legs and arms and sewed a lot of love into her simple clothes.  I hope Angélique smiles when she unwraps her.*

Merry Noëlle testifies to the fact that my heart is lighter these days.  Gaspard our dog has fully recovered and is back to his usual blithe self.  Every day as I watch him wolf down his food I smile and count my blessings.  Yesterday as we took him in to have his stitches removed I thanked the vet for the remarkable work he had performed.  Such joy and just in time for Christmas too!
The whole family save Mickaël has been sick over the past week or so.  Now we are all better.  The preparations for the festive days to come have fallen into place quietly with the minimum of fuss.  Glitter has been painted on stars, felt tree decorations stitched by a very patient Tristan, and pheasant and red cabbage have been purchased for Christmas Day together with a Bûche de Noël.  On Christmas Eve we will eat oysters and sip champagne.  My brother arrives with his guitar on Christmas Eve so there will be music to accompany our laughter over the next few days.
I have been knitting Turkish Delight in quiet corners and tranquil spare moments.
Simple and elegant Beck with a little twist!  If you are in need of a peaceful knitting pattern this holiday I urge you to choose this one by Dani Sunshine.  Those sweet little cables, which are clevery mirrored on the cuffs, were my first attempt at cable knitting and delightfully easy.  You could choose a second colour to weave in and out of those cables for a little extra fun and texture.  The pattern is crystal clear and its designer a pleasure to communicate with over on Ravelry.  Should you have any questions she will return like a shot with friendly advice. 

Madelinetosh DK in the Fragrant colourway.  Every time I wear this I smell lush pink roses and see glistening blocks of rose-flavoured Turkish Delight (Loukoum) which bring me back to my years in Greece.  Those were happy times during which many kilos of Loukoum were enjoyed! 

You will find my Ravelry notes for Turkish Delight here.

And now my friends I will leave you to enjoy your fesitivies.  May your hearts be full and your Christmas peaceful.  I wish you happiness and simple pleasures.  I will raise a glass to you all for your support and gentle words over this past year and I will continue to post during 2013 in my usual sporadic fashion ;-)  I have a few dreams and projects to share with you.

Love and cheer to you ALL!

A bientôt,


* Whilst the pattern is my own, Noëlle The Cat was totally inspired by the work of the Hungarian artist, Eszterda.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


My heart is full of gratitude for ALL your support.  If the truth be told I had been feeling fearful for days wondering how I could help Gaspard as I watched him grow listless.  It was too much to bear. I wish I could thank each and every one of you personally for your kindness!
It was during the third consultation in less than six days that a barium test was finally performed on Gaspard which revealed he had an obstruction in his intestine.  Yesterday the vet extracted a peach stone during surgery.  I recall now that Angélique went through a phase last June of eating mountains of peaches and, well, she must have thrown a peach stone in the flowerbed which Gaspard recently dug up.
Gaspard is being kept under observation until Friday - oh my goodness what a l-o-n-g wait this is - and today the vet told him he was being fed intravenously and seemed alert and as well as possible.  The news is good but I daren't get too excited yet. Last year's sorrow has made me cautious.  Please may I ask you to send another prayer for Gaspard?
Yes indeed my heart has been full of Gaspard these past days. Today the sky is forget-me-not blue and the grass is sparkling white.  There are oat and white chocolate cookies baking in the oven and Tristan and I are finally turning our attention to Christmas decoration making.  But Gaspard is always with me.  Yes, that is a special kind of love indeed and I am hoping he will make a full recovery and be back to his usual adorable, bouncy, irritating self!
Love to you all,
ps I'm sorry for the hazy picture  but it captures Gaspard's expression perfectly.
Monday evening edit:  Gaspard is doing amazingly well!  The vet did a wonderful job and we welcomed back a surprisingly bouncy dog on Thursday evening.  It was simply wonderful.  The best thing has been watching him throwing himself on his food again.  Oh yes indeed, Gaspard is one hungry dog now.

Monday 10 December 2012


Dear readers,
Please, please send a hug and a prayer to our sweet Gaspard for Tuesday morning. He is undergoing surgery as he has an obstruction in his intestine caused by something he ate a while ago.  We are worried sick about him and I have barely been able to eat.
I'm sorry to be so miserable but I cannot, like many others, bear to see an animal suffering.
A bientôt,

Friday 7 December 2012


Dear readers,
This exquisite pair of slippers, one of the many products of Lea Stansal's gloriously whimsical imagination, reminds me of the novel The Snow Child - yours is on its way, Melissa - which so many of you have read with great delight.  As I have already confessed I am a winter child at heart.  It is a season which encourages you to become a good beauty hound and gently compels us to enjoy the novelty of seeing everything from a different perspective, the twigs glazed with ice, the snow glittering like diamond dust. There is always pleasure to be found somewhere among the leavings; remains that tell a story.  The Alaskian storyteller, Eowyn Ivey, does just that: she spins a fairytale from the harsh reality of winter in Alaska and makes it into something beautiful.  She has a talent which leaves me in awe.
In The Children's Book (the only book which carried me through those first nauseous months of pregnancy three summers ago) A.S. Byatt writes:
"Olive was sometimes frightened by the relentlessly busy inventiveness of her brain.  It was good and consoling that it earned money, real bankable cheques in real envelopes.  That anchored it in the real world.  And the real world sprouted stories wherever she looked at it. [...] Yesterday's events had also transmuted themselves into story-matter, almost as fast as they had happened.  She had watched Anselm Stern's version of E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale with glee - her response to any performance, any work of art, was the desire to make another, to make her own.  She was in that world, watching, not in flat dailiness.  The gliding movement of the puppets, the glitter of the limelight on their silk organza dresses, the half-visible strings, like spider-silk, had transmuted into other figures in other lights in her head, almost before they had performed their own sequence of movements."
I have always admired a storyteller.  I may be a humble writer - a garden aesthetics journalist to be precise - but I am incapable of threading words together to make up a story.  I put down facts on paper, simple as that.  And what about those marvellous souls who snuggle down with their children in bed and make up stories in their head?  Oh my, I wish I could do that!  Tell me please, do you have that talent?
As you have all noticed I have temporarily put down my writer's pen and taken up my needles and thread these past few months.  The constant clamour of my spirited Angélique has made it more tricky to form (halfway intelligent) sentences but fairly easy to stitch. I may not be able to write tales but I do enjoy making up characters with a little fabric and yarn.
Most days I am glad to embrace the commonplace in the knowledge that it counterbalances a desire to keep company with my flights of fancy. The imagination is a powerful ally and an alluring friend and this week I have wished to part company with the mundane and its ceaseless sermons to keep one's feet on the ground. This character, Mademosielle Butterfly, has been living in my head for a while now (she is destined for a little girl named Matilda) and has kept me cheerful through the symphony of hacking coughs and broken nights.  When I look at her I think of skies in spring and holding a small, blue butterfly gently in my hands and watching it flutter.  As I stitched the last piece of lace on her skirt I realised with contentment that the interludes between coughing fits had lengthened, that my children had rosy cheeks one more. and that the sodden winter garden was filled with dazzling sunlight . Thank you Mademoiselle Butterfly for carrying me through a tricky week.
 And thank you too to Silke Leffler whose illustrations gladden my heart and inspire me.  If you are looking for good reading matter for Christmas presents may I suggest these two books?
I bought these for myself a while back but have watched with a happy heart Angélique fall in love with the pictures and the tales.  The Flower Ball is a clever tale of acceptance which uses rich imagary and words. Why Is The Snow White is an imaginative tale which celebrates snow and the sweetness of sharing.  You may find them both here and here.
And finally, please could you all gently wag a finger at dear Gaspard! 
 He turned one on the first day of Advent and spent the entire night vomiting his first birthday bone. Poor love! 'No more bones', admonished the kind vet the following morning. For the past few days he will only eat and drink water from my hands and turns his charming nose up at his dog bowl! The vet yesterday advised me to stop handfeeding him. Is my dear dog becoming a drama queen?
A bientôt,
Edit: I am wondering about stepping away from this space after Christmas...

Sunday 25 November 2012

An Announcement

Dear readers,

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Mickaël and I are slowly returning to reality after a magical weekend for which I am so very grateful. I will be back as soon as my feet touch the ground to share my joy with you.
In the meantime thank you so much for your warm birthday wishes and eager response to my little gift offer.  Mademoiselle Dotty Poppy (my latest customer order) has an announcement to make!
Who will win Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child?
The answer (according to the Random Number Generator) is:
Melissa from Julia's Bookbag! 
Melissa, please send me your postal address so that you may enjoy this book during the sparkling days of Advent!  Let's share the excitement of reading it together.
I wish you all a very, very happy new week.
A bientôt,

Sunday 18 November 2012

A Frosty Gift (To You)

Dear readers,
Generally speaking November does not get a good press.  I don't know about you but I would like to relinquish all notions of a four-quartered year.  The ragged interface, for example, between autumn and winter, which could be considered a short, hybrid season in itself, usually occurs in November, I think.  Rotting leaves turn into a fragrant mulch. Birds still berry in the woods.  The damp air is full of distinct noises; dripping branches and seedpods like tiny rattles on the trees.  The air here in France is cold without being chill.  We no longer fight the urge to close the shutters tight come early evening.  We become homebodies mostly.
And then the first, magical frost comes.
"There's nothing like a touch of frost to add glamour to the winter garden.  Like hard white icing on a dark fruit cake, it transforms the stuff of everyday life into something special - a birthday or a christening instead of the usual Saturday teatime in front of the telly."
Katherine Swift, The Morville Year (p. 244).
I love frost!  Don't you?  And I thank Katherine Swift for raising it the thrilling heights of birthday celebrations for I realise now that, undeniable aesthetic values aside, for decades I must have associated the first frosts with my November birthday.  Yes indeed I will be celebrating gaining another year this week.  On the day itself I will be eating out  with a precious friend at our favourite local haunt, La Part Belle and for the first time ever in our nine years of wedded bliss (hee, hee!) MIckaël is taking me away for the weekend to a surprise destination whilst his parents sweetly come and look after our children. I am as excited as can be!
Aside from making 'Eve's Pudding', using my favourite fragrant Blechard apples with a touch of lemon zest, or ''Chocolate Puddle Pudding' served when the children are home from school with a little cream or vanilla ice cream I had to channel my excitement into something more creative and less calorific! 

Here is Mademoiselle Ciel d'Hiver (Winter Sky), an enchanted hare, who represents the most magic of all natural beauty; the unique snowflake, the silvery and intricate calligraphy of Jack Frost (I loved him as a child), the glaze of ice on water, a deep winter sleep, and in particular the winter sky. When I first arrived in France fifteen years ago I settled down in a little fishing village on the Normandy coastline and would follow the country road to get to the nearest town, Bayeux. My first winter left me breathless with excitement. I would slow my car down and gasp at the mist swirling over the frosty pastures and the sky pink, grey, and mauve, with occasional flashes of orange as the sun lazily woke up. It was so beautiful.
Mademoiselle Ciel d'Hiver loves to gaze at the winter landscape suffused with pink light. She will clap her hands with pleasure when the first frost or snowfall occur. In the long evenings when the curtains are drawn she will be supremely content sitting in an armchair with the candles lit and reading a good book such as "The Secret Garden". She is very feminine and quietly spoken and very fond of white icing sugar and silver balls on cakes.
Ivory silk (from Angélique's christening gown) line her ears.  Silvery embroidered snowflakes cover her slender feet and long ears.  Translucent glass beads have been knitted into her little tunic which, to my mind, contains all the colours of the winter sky I first found in France by the sea all those years ago.  And, best of all,  a beautiful ivory lace, HANDMADE by a specialist lacemaker, trims the trousers. It's intricate, regular pattern reminds me of Jack Frost's delicate designs on icy windowpanes and the effect of frosty parterre designs in Baroque and Renaissance gardens. It's the same as the one I used for Mademoiselle Autumn Serenade (hi Claire!).  This little hare appeared in my Etsy shop yesterday and disappeared again, as if by magic, not once but twice (oops).
 In short I have made her, partly, to celebrate my fast approaching birthday, and my favourite books, which I always dip into with every first frost; Marina Warner's book "The Skating Party", and my favourite part of Virginia Woolf's "Orlando" which describes the Great Freeze in London in the sixteenth century.
Do you see the book on the right?  A few days ago Lori, in an inspiring post in which she reveals the most stunning reindeer shawl she knitted herself on her return from adventures in Alaska, eagerly shared her opinion of Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child.  She wrote; 'the snow child is about homesteading in alaska in the 1920's. magical, delicate, poignant, a beautiful story. and the art work on the cover, LOVE that too'.  It did not take me long to order two copies of this book.  One of these I would like to gift to you.  My copy is patiently sitting on my (dusty) bedside table.  I longingly brush a finger over its beautiful cover every night when I creep into bed well past midnight.  I have many hares to stitch for Christmas, you see, and little time to read.  I love the idea, however, of sending this book out to someone special and reading it together; simultaneously.  Another small connection in this vast world we live in.

So, dear readers, this is my small birthday present to you.  If you are interested in reading The Snow Child simply leave me a comment.  I would be most grateful if you could become a follower too, although it is by no means essential.  (Of course if you care to 'like' my facebook page, Madame Millefeuilles, I would be equally thankful.)  I will announce the winner in a week's time.
'Til then, I wish you all a beautiful week and thank you so much for taking the time to visit.
A bientôt,
ps Happy, happy Thanksgiving to all our friends across the seas.  I will raise a glass to you on my birthday :-)

Sunday 11 November 2012

Of Mice And Men

Dear readers,
 Sixteen of us, spanning four generations, gathered to celebrate my father's ninetieth birthday last Saturday in Tunbridge Wells.  There was much laughter, fabulous champagne, and a few tears of pride too.  We all savoured every hour of that special, intense, day together and revelled in our shared pride of this wonderful man who almost lost his life in Brac, Yugoslavia on June 6th 1944 (D-day in Normandy). 

A week on, the excitement having died down, I look back on last Saturday and feel compelled to celebrate quietly our good fortune.  One of my favourite moments was, once the small children were in bed, sipping a glass of 1934 Port, poured by my father in his book-lined study, and chatting warmly together.  My parents, four siblings, three husbands, and a few of my sisters' eldest children all discussing freely in English and French as we have done for decades.  We recalled with wonder the speech made by my twenty-one year old nephew and marvelled at how well our children had demonstrated their love for their grand-father.
This picture, taken by Tristan, shows the place cards he created with Héloïse for this special birthday party. Mushrooms, delicate leaves, intricate trees, and hearts, all cut out from handmade paper, represent their love for their grand-father.
Angélique, the youngest member of our extended family, behaved almost perfectly and seemed determined never to let my father out of her sight the whole day through.  I was lucky to have just enough time before we departed to knit this little tunic for the party in the rich autumnal hues of Madelinetosh Sock yarn in Amber Trinket (swoon).  Paulette, is a new pattern by the very gifted Nadia Crétin-Léchenne.  I have been an avid reader of her blog, Ittybitty, for a few months now.  I think her six children fuel her knitting creativity and I cannot help but feel a little in awe of her ability to channel her energy around those six little beings.  Goodness me...
You can find my Ravery notes here.  It has suddenly dawned upon me that I need to knit two more sweaters before the end of the year to  successfully complete the 12 Sweaters In 2012 Ravelry Challenge.  Um, alright then.
Now, just look at this adorable little lady dangling in the tree!  Her name is Miss Autumn and she is the creation of lovely, lovely Vivienne from Green Rabbit Designs.  I am certain that you all know Vivienne.  I really wish I could meet her some day.  The next best thing was owning one of her rabbits.  Of course, Angélique is the rightful owner and I must say Miss Autumn never leaves her side.  She was the only toy to accompany her on our travels to England and, as you can see, this beautiful rabbit had some fun too!  (Can some kind soul please tell me what this beautiful tree is, please?)  One of the pleasures of Vivienne's rabbits is their size and weight.  They are a joy to hold and sit perfectly in little hands.  If you are tempted I think a Christmas rabbit is in the making but keep your eye open for the last one, Miss Holly, was snapped up very quickly indeed. 

Now I have a little whiskered-somebody to show you. Please do not all crowd around her for she is very timid indeed (despite the fact she is showing a bit of leg).
Her name is Mademoiselle Poppy and she has been made for a lady who wishes to commemorate her mother whose name was Poppy, of course.  She has requested an heirloom to pass on to her children who loved their grandmother dearly.  What a lovely commission this has been for me, don't you agree? She is my first mouse and hopefully not my last.  What do you think of her?
Judging from appearances this mouse has a very sweet tooth! I feel she has one foot in the summer meadows but is looking ahead to Christmas. She has translucent sequins on her antique lace-trimmed pantaloons and pearly whiskers. Of course the red, white, and green remind me of the Festive Season too.
I am fully aware of the seeming lack of respect of revealing a poppy-clad mouse on Armistice Day. I have mulled over this for hours and I hope you will forgive me for I have promised Mademoiselle Poppy's future owner to reveal her today.  I'm very sorry.
I really ought to stop rabbiting on and let you get on with something more important!  Thank you all so much for stopping by.  Your kindness and thoughtful comments make me smile from ear to ear.  I hope you are all well and I wish you a happy week full of peace and hope.
A bientôt dear friends,

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Did Pre-Raphaelite Women Wear Chunky Knits?

Dear readers,
First, I would like to say my thoughts have been straying across to the East Coast of America.  I really hope you are all safe and well.
I am taking a break from my father's 90th birthday celebration preparations.  Embroidering mushrooms - my father is a keen mycologist - may be a wonderful way of symbolising a great man but, goodness me, I do get muddled with all those shades of brown!  Meanwhile the children are turning autumnal-coloured papers into place cards worthy of the most glorious of Baroque stage scenery.  I am quite serious! I will take a picture of their creations to show you all next time. Believe me; they are quite beautiful but have also provoked a few, ahem, heated discussions.  To top it all, Angélique, after four months of flourishing health, turned feverish and fretful this Sunday and graciously passed on her virus to me.  Ah, the joys of family life...
So here I am turning my back on browns, reds, oranges, purples, and germs and embracing a little greenery.
During the entire month of October I nursed the hope of visiting the gardens of Villandry again to admire the pumpkins growing higgledy piggledy in the potager against the magnificent backdrop of vivid green boxtree broderies before this château closed its gates for winter.  However endlessly rainy weekends and cherished visitors from afar thwarted my plans so here instead is a picture of the ornamental gardens at Villandry taken last spring to nourish my love of vegetation.  Rainy Sundays inspired me to pick up my knitting needles and make something for my eldest daughter.  Half the fun of knitting for her is choosing the colour together and three cheers for Héloïse; she chose GREEN!
Here is Melissa LaBarre's Agnes which I have renamed "Boxtree".  I could have called it "In The Blink Of An Eye" for I swear this is the most ridiculously rapid knit ever!  I am not very fond of chunky knits and mostly prefer knitting with fine yarns however this pattern has seduced me to the non-negligible charms of fast knitting together with the delights of Quince & Co. Puffin yarn.  Here are my Ravelry notes in case you are interested.
Don't you think that colour suits Héloïse?  That hair makes me think of a Pre-Raphaelite woman.  I'm getting quite excited at the thought of finding some knitting patterns which would suit this Pre-Raphaelite look of hers.  Any ideas?
Like all mothers I am proud of my daughter.  She is strong, thoughtful, bright as a button, and stoic.
It is not always easy to be the eldest of three but I am grateful to her for being supportive and patient.  We try to carve some precious time out to spend together for I cannot help but see the moment looming on the horizon when she will spread her wings and fly away.  I cherish our brainstorming sessions for she is very creative despite her school's desire to push her into a scientific profession.  Do you remember, about a month ago, I wrote about an audition at the regional academy of music and theatre?  After three intensive days Héloïse was accepted alongside eleven other candidates, aged between twenty and twenty-six.  There had been fifty two would-be actors auditioning.  Of course Héloïse was thrilled but her hopes were slightly dashed when she found out the five-hour weekly classes were scheduled on wednesday afternoons: a time when most secondary schools do not have lessons here in France.  Héloïse's school, unfortunately, is an exception to this rule. The academy teaching staff were sweetly disappointed and urged her to drop in and participate whenever she had a spare moment.  They also reassured her that a place would be kept for her in the future.
All's well that ends well.

In the meantime I must return to browns, feeding my merry band of artists, and slowly preparing for our departure on Friday.  I am nursing myself back to health with all manner of herbal infusions and teas.  My favourite at the moment is Mariage Frères Chandrenagor black tea.mixed with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper.  It really is heavenly with a spoonful of brown sugar.  Which begs the question: which tea are you drinking today?

Keep well and happy end of week to you all.


Monday 22 October 2012

Hark! Hark! Each Tree Its Silence Breaks

Dear readers,

I am dedicating this post to my remarkable father who turns ninety today.  He is a lover of wood and a talented carpenter in his spare time.

"Hark, hark! Each Tree its silence breaks,
The Box and Fir to talk begin!
This is the sprightly Violin
That in the Flute distinctly speaks!"

(Nicholas Brady 1659-26)

Adapted to music by Henry Purcell in his Ode to St. Cecilia in 1692.  To be listened to and marvelled over here).
 1., 2. and 3.  French early eighteenth-century 'Baroque' oboe.  Referred to as E108.  The original was made of ebony and ivory with silver keys.  Mine is made by Olivier Cottet from ebony and rosewood.  Click here if you would like to here an extract of this instrument being played by my teacher, Elsa Frank.

4. and 5. The tools required to make an oboe reed.  One of the challenges of learning this instrument is having to make one's own reed as there are none available for purchase.  Tricky?  Oh, yes!  The reed on the left was my first attempt. (Don't be fooled; it looks alright but the quality of sound was just not good enough.)  An eighteenth-century oboe only has two keys so to reach the higher notes the reed, which is more supple than a modern oboe's, must be blown harder which makes for very achy cheek muscles! 

6. and 7.  An example of the exquisite music to be played on the Baroque oboe. Anne Danican Philidor (1681-1728), composed sublime music, heavily ornamented to show off the player's virtuosity. Do you see all those crosses on the score?  Each one represents a different ornament.  The bass clef is for the harpsichord accompaniment.  The numbers refer to the chords to be played.


The idea, put into words by NIcholas Brady, of trees finding their voices is a charming one.  Instrument makers put so much love into the wood they chisel and carve so that musicians may cherish the instruments they play.  Some believe that trees speak to one another in the woodlands too.  I would very much like to know what they murmur to each other during autumn as their leaves turn into a symphony of colours and fall silently to the mossy ground.  Are they sad or joyful?  To celebrate this bitter sweet moment I have made Mademoiselle Autumn Serenade, possibly my last autumn hare this year.
This little lady is a lucky hare for she has been stitched from hand-dyed linen (R & R Reproductions for those who like to embroider with soft, natural coloured linens), hand-dyed felted wool, purchased from this lady, and embroidered with silk thread in glorious, hand-dyed autumnal colours.  Her crowning glory is the handmade lace which has been lovingly prepared by a friend of mine for her.  Somehow that creamy lace on the dark tweed trousers reminds me of the ivory and ebony wood on my oboe; do you agree?  Mademoiselle Autumn Serenade, with her embroidered leaves gracing both ankle and ear, is a quiet soul who loves to wander through the countryside and forests gazing up at the trees and the autumn leaves drifting silently to the ground. If the wind is blowing too hard she likes to retreat indoors to sit by the fire, sipping spicy tea and listening to classical music. She is not much of a chatterer but she does like singing quietly to herself, perhaps a little Henry Purcell?  If she were your hare which music would she be singing, I wonder?  If one of you might like to give a home to her you will find her here.

And now I must prepare the decorations for my father's birthday celebration to be held in Tunbridge Wells the first weekend of November.  November?  Where did this year go?

I wish you all a tranquil and happy week.  I will be back very soon as I have some pictures of Héloïse I cannot resist showing you!


Edited Tuesday morning: Mademoiselle Autumn Serenade is off to start a new chapter in her long-eared life. Farewell!

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