Saturday 30 November 2013

Celebrating Change

Dear readers,

 Two e-mails of note arrived in our mail boxes this week.  The first stirred up feelings of intense maternal pride and the second, well, it just made me plain happy.

On Tuesday, whilst waiting for Héloïse to arrive home after dusk from her theatre class, I hesitantly logged into her account, as she had pleadingly requested the night before, and saw the mail she'd been waiting for.  Natural Sciences Interview, it read.  How could I not read on?  And then I jumped up and danced before my my younger children's surprised eyes: 'She's got an interview at Cambridge University', I shrieked!  Needless to say we all danced for quite a while after that.  And downed champagne too!  The interview will be taking place on Tuesday 17th December at Trinity Hall.
The second e-mail quietly landed in my mailbox yesterday.  It was short and terribly sweet.  My Phd thesis supervisor wrote that she would be delighted for me to return to complete my Phd thesis the following academic year.
 And with those few lines I felt as though I had returned home.

 Shortly after Angélique was born, almost four years ago, I was obliged to put my thesis to one side.  It was frustrating and it was the right thing to do at the time.  I cannot express how much I love my field of study - Baroque aesthetics - and how thrilled I am to have this chance to finish.  It is necessary too.  I have noticed the quality of my writing slipping and I need the guidance of my WONDERFUL supervisor who is brilliant and meticulous; two qualities we do not share!  It will be a tough, glorious year and I am so very excited.  So, change is afoot although it is not imminent.  It will change my perspective on creating too; of that I am certain.

To celebrate, in particular, Héloïse's good news, I slipped Miss Twinkle Toes onto my shop shelves today.  The last few weeks have been ridiculously and wonderfully busy with customer orders and I am happy to have had the time to put this little lady at least on sale before Christmas.  She is my last ballet-themed hare and is a bit of a celebration in herself: pink silk - called Rose Cherubin and sparkly linen purchased from Paris, ballet shoes and stars embroidered on her ankles with silver and silk threads.  My favourite thing was using The Uncommon Thread's wispy fingering merino yarn in the fairytale colourway; Spumoni to make her ballet wrap-cardigan.  It makes for delightful small-scale knitting on 2.75mm double-pointed needles!

If you think you know somebody who might like to give her a home you may find her right over here.

 I like change, mostly, although some would say I am not always so good at dealing with the unexpected.  How about you?  Do you revel or flee from change?  Have you made decisions already about next year?  I would like to read about them, big or small.

A bientôt,


Saturday 23 November 2013

Sugar Mice And Other Birthday Treats

Dear readers,

To paraphrase the French writer, Erik Orsenna, in his book dedicated to sugar, bitterness, sourness and saltiness bring us back to our everyday lives whereas sweetness always evokes an air of festivity.

Sugar holds magical powers.  It can unlock the gates to an enchanted kingdom of childhood memories.  Biting into red lacquered toffee apples - can you hear the music of the fun fair? - nibbling paper-thin, buttery pancakes on Shrove Tuesday with dribbling white sugar and lemon juice, dropping a generous dollop of strawberry jam into a bowl of creamy rice pudding, deftly pinching a piece of Christmas cake marzipan behind your mother's back (was I the only one to do that?) and the unequalled treat of being presented a vast assortment of chocolates to choose from.

Caster, granulated, confectioners, Muscovado, Demerara, liquid sugars both amber and white. Regardless of its multifaceted forms, sugar always has the ability to metamorphose into different forms simply by the application of heat.  Who has not succumbed to the delights of making jams and marmelade or marvelled, whlst stirring and waiting patiently for the soft ball stage, at the deepening colour of caramel and the aroma which holds the promise of bowls of ice cream with lashings of caramel or fudge sauce?  Reach the hard crack stage instead and you will be subjecting your teeth to the pleasures of brittle toffee.  For me the humble meringue is the most miraculous of all. Combine two ingredients, sugar and egg whites, to create clouds of white billows, creamy inside with a crisp exterior.  A most heavenly delicacy.

Dani Sunshine's knitting pattern, Brook, is like inviting an old friend for tea; hours of peaceful pleasure spiced up with moments of frivolity and laughter.  Those dinky twisted cables are deliciously addictive; take a peek here and here for proof.  I called this pullover Coloured Sugars.  The Uncommon Thread colourway, Manuscript, makes me think of raw cane sugar.  And don't your just love that spring-like assortment of colours in the stripes?  I bought a skein of Koigu Painter's Palette one Easter, on a whim, and chose to knit it double here (it's a fingering weight) for the rows.  The colours remind me of a display of flavoured sugars I spotted in this fabulous tea and coffee shop in the Loire Valley town of Blois a fortnight ago.

My birthday cake - yes, yes, it's my birthday - simply had to be Maple Syrup Cake this year.  It's quick to bake, fluffy and, doused with richly flavoured syrup, becomes as sticky as a steamed sponge pudding.  The best part for me was watching the children's faces light up as each evoked their special memories of enjoying this cake, some of which had slipped my mind.  Tristan recalled eating it one snowy sunday with candles and his eyes simply sparkled.  I found this recipe once in an old Sainsbury's recipe book but I've made it so many times that I know it by heart.  It's delicious with vanilla ice cream, strawberries in late spring, or slices of apples sautéed in a little salted butter with a dusting of cinnamon.

You will need:

250 ml (8 fl oz) maple syrup
125g (4oz) self-raising flour
125g (4oz) sugar
125g (4oz) softened butter
2 eggs
2-3 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°C and butter a dish.
2. Heat the syrup in a saucepan until it comes to the boil.
3. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the sugar.  Mix.
4. Add the butter and eggs and mix until the mixture becomes creamy.
5. Add the milk and mix.
6. Pour the hot maple syrup into the prepared dish and spoon the cake batter on top.
7. Bake for around 40 minutes.
8. Remove from the oven and turn upside down onto a pretty plate while still warm.

Those tiny pink mice and rabbits, gazing up at silvery snowballs and flakes on a sparkly linen, were designed for a sweet girl who will be celebrating her fifth birthday tomorrow (five is SO much better than forty-five); a gift by way of showing my appreciation for her most generous grand-mother.  As I reached out for my favourite The Gentle Art hand-dyed cotton embroidery threads in the Spun Sugar and Pink Champage colours, unsure of what to make,  my mind conjured up SUGAR MICE!  Another childhood memory.  Do let me know, incidentally if you would like the reference for the sparkly linen.*  It is stunning even though you can barely catch a glimpse of the glimmering threads on the pictures I've taken.  The hare, Miss Twinkle Toes, is also made from the same linen.  You cannot have too much of a good thing, right?
There have been A LOT of hares and a handful of mice being created behind the scenes (all to be seen over at Madame Millefeuilles) in time for Christmas.  They've been clamouring to be displayed here this evening but only two were invited, Miss Twinkle Toes and Mademoiselle Violetta (with twenty five hand-embroidered sugared violets trimming her skirt).  I told them it would not do to bombard my readers with a gaggle of giggly linen creatures.  These little ladies will be requiring some boy companions soon, I think.  After Christmas, I hope.

I've been counting my days in hare parts and garments these past months which, some would say, is a sign of obssession.  That is the way I am.  One evening this week, dear Héloïse invited me to the theatre as a birthday treat.  We saw Molière's Les Fâcheux, written in haste for the unfortunate Nicolas Foquet, Louis XIV's minister of finances, for the grand festivities at Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1661.  Whilst I sat through this remarkable represenation, given by La Fabrique à Théatre, I marvelled at the Baroque dance, music and burlesque, and realised that in some sense I had lost my way a little over the past few years.  I felt tears of joy pricking my eyes and felt as though I had returned home into the world of Baroque art.  Now I feel quite fired up and pretty certain that change is afoot for me.
I've think I've rabbited on long enough about sugar and treats, my friends!  I leave you with a picture of my sweet-toothed Tristan, my favourite musician, who always has a creative project up his coat sleeve!

Thank you SO much to all those who take the time to leave a message here.  I know how busy you all are and I truly appreciate the time you take to write a few words.

A bientôt,


ps Joining in with sweet Hannapat's Weekly Bake

* Here is the reference for the sparkly linen as requested by some kind souls: Zweigart 32ct Belfast Lurex Linen.  Now, I found it pretty tricky to find some in the UK but purchased mine from my favourite central Paris shop, Des Fils Et Une Aiguille which has a fabulous online shop too.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Stitching Lovebirds And Flowers

Dear readers,

Whilst sending e-mails back and forth to my online Fairy Godmother this week, she and I both expressed a heartfelt gratitude for the precious friendships blogging has generated for us.  I am sure this sentiment is shared by many of you.  Shortly after my cautious foray into the world of blogging two summers ago, I came across the artist Celia's Purple Podded Peas which rapidly became one of my favourite visiting places.  I found she struck the perfect balance between chatting informatively about her garden (and beloved hens) and sharing beautfully written posts about exhibitions she had visited which would include intriguing snippets of cultural history.  And her artwork?  Well, as many of you will know, it's quite simply stunning.  It didn't take me long to purchase her famous linocut print The Birds' Wedding Day for my son Tristan's Valentine's Day birthday.  He loves it almost as much as I do!

Late this summer I received an e-mail from Celia explaining how, after years of dreaming of adapting her block print designs for a repeat pattern for fabric, she had launched her first fabric collection.  She went on to ask whether I would be interested in receiving some samples of these natural fibre materials and turning them into something special. Needless to say, I jumped at this golden opportunity.  This collection, which is based on The Birds" Wedding Day, comes in three colourways; Ruby, Sea, and Stone.  I eagerly awaited my parcel, wrapped in white tissue paper, which bore the tantalising label SEW ME. Those fabrics provoked many a daydream - what would I make with them? - and a little frustration too! I knew that I would have to wait a while before I could start snipping and sewing them as I had a fair amount of hare and mice orders to attend to first.  My frustration grew as I saw the beautiful work performed by three ladies: Gina, Tracy, and Sue with their special material bundles over the course of October.

And then my wonderful husband took our three children away to his parents' home in Brittany for the weekend and I put my hares and mice aside and got busy!  The best thing about this project was slipping out of my aesthetics and trying to slip into Celia's.  I wanted to respect her colour schemes and themes: hearts, lovebirds, flowers, and butterflies.

I started with a simple needle case, stitched from Celia's sea small sprigs in Retired Kona Cotton, which I padded with natural cotton batting and trimmed with 6mm glass beads gifted to me by the French author and artist, Facile Cécile.  I added a sprinkling of 1930s lace flowers.  I can see myself making dozens of these and adding embroidered embellishments, trimmings and beads: they are delightfully addictive.

And then I moved onto making a fabric basket - perfect for holding one of my many knitting or embroidery projects -  using, this time, Sea Hearts in linen/cotton canvas.  Celia's beautiful heart motifs beg, I believe, a squarish construction to show them off.  This could not have been more simple to create with cotton batting to keep the sides sturdy.  The satin ribbon ties provided a touch of red.  I wanted to add a finishing touch to honour Celia's style.  I chose to cross stitch one of the panels with a red heart, flower and bird pattern from the Italian designer Renato Parolin. (His work is exquisite and I have a particular fondness for his large scale monochrome intricate tree designs.)
If you would like to take a peek at Celia's fabrics (I think the Ruby collection is simply perfect for Christmas gifts; it's so festive) you can find the entire range in her Spoonflower shop.  Her artwork may be found here.
Thank you Celia for giving me this golden opportunity to have so much fun!
A bientôt,
ps I have been thinking long and hard about this blog of mine.  My créations are keeping me very busy at the moment but I feel the need to make a few changes here, for the best I hope!  Suffice to say I have a lot of dreams and creative ideas in the pipeline.

pps I wish I could have taken these pictures in natural daylight but the weather has been very dismal and soggy these past few days.
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