Thursday, January 12, 2017

Happy New Year

My collection of handbags welcomed a gorgeous new addition on Christmas day when I opened a package containing a Geranium handbag by Vita Cochran.

Isn't it splendid! My wonderful husband Jack picked up on the many hints I'd been dropping and secretly liaised with Anna Miles Gallery to buy it for me. Meanwhile, I'd been sneakily organising a gift-to-self of another felt piece by Vita:

A petal scarf from Ng Boutique. Throughout summer I'll drape it like a lei over Karl Chitham's drawing of Calypso in the hallway, and in the winter I'll wear it as a scarf. How's that for a multi-functional piece! My year is off to a great start. I hope your year is too.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Jack's Christmas Special 2016


The picture is sepia-toned
like the not-too-far-distant war

the need to stay silent at mealtimes
so her father can hear

every radio news report
the need to pose paramount

in the stiff lines of this schoolgirl
reaching out a tentative hand

to the strangest of beasts
in the latter stages of dementia

my father removed her photos
replacing them with snaps

of his militaria
I don’t think she understands

what we see in this picture
the meekness before authority

the gentleness of the pose
the dark fringe of trees

in a faraway world
where my mother

has just been told
to pretend to feed

a wallaby


For Jack's special handmade Christmas gift this year I'm working with this gorgeous poem he wrote recently in response to the photo (above) of his Mum when she was a little girl.

I made fabric covered frames for the poem and image.

I printed the poem on thick, acid-free watercolour paper and hand-stamped a border around it. The felt frame and the stamped design were loosely inspired by two more images by Margaret Preston (see last post), this time of Aboriginal motifs. Jack's mother is Australian, so that explains the choice of design.

I mounted the two pieces in simple wooden frames from Factory Frames. All I need to do now is screw a narrow hinge between them so that the piece can be free-standing like this. I had planned to make a quilted frame for them, but I much prefer the pair of joined wooden frames.

I plan to spend the next few weeks writing, sewing, snacking and snoozing, so I hope you have something similarly indulgent in mind too.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. 

A workbag of my own

I'm not sure about the experience of my fellow crafties out there, but more often than not I find that I when I make practical items like book bags, needle cases and workbags for sewing, I give them away. As a consequence, my own sewing bits and bobs tend to be kept in assorted shoe boxes and plastic tubs tucked away from view in my sewing table drawers.

Here's An embroidered linen workbag I made for Mum in 2013 
from Rosemary McLeod's book With Bold Needle and Thread

Watching the gorgeous BBC comedy Mapp and Lucia recently, which is set in the 1920s, you can't help but be captivated by the exquisite costumes. Among the sumptuous fringed coats and drop-waisted evening dresses, I was particularly drawn to the embroidered workbag that the delightfully effeminate character Georgie used to keep his embroidery in. That gave me the idea to make a workbag of my own.

During a trip to Melbourne a couple of years ago I fell in love with the work of Australian artist Margaret Preston (1875-1963), and looking through a catalogue of Preston's work last week, I decided to convert her hand-coloured woodblock print Gum Blossoms (1928) into a felt applique for my workbag.

Here's the mock-up on cardboard.

I like the woodcut effect generated by embroidering 
the black disc and leaf shapes but leaving a black border on each piece.

Starting the process of sewing the elements onto a silk kimono panel.

Now that the design is all sewn into place I just need to decide on the shape of my workbag. There's a great range of workbag styles in Rosemary McLeod's earlier book From Thrift to Fantasy.

I'll give it some thought and get back to you when I've completed the bag.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Animal Recovery

This elephant, made from a piece of handwoven vintage fabric bought from an antique store in Christchurch, is the first soft toy I sewed, some 14 years ago. I've made quite a few for friends and family over the years after discovering that they are the perfect shape and size for resting books on while reading in bed. They've become known as "reading elephants".

As voracious readers, our elephants have become an essential part of our lives, but this old chap, much loved by Jack, has become so worn that his belly is threadbare and his stuffing is coming out. Urgent animal recovery was called for.

If any of you read The Velveteen Rabbit when you were little, which remains among my top five all-time favourite kids books, you'll understand that the thought of discarding the faithful old elephant was not an option.
After all, according to Margery Williams, being worn down to your fibre is the true sign that a toy has become real, and ... [plot spoiler alert]

 that is what became of the lovely velveteen rabbit at the end of the story.

 So I salvaged the eyes, ears and tusks of the old elephant

 and made him a new body from one panel of a vintage silk kimono.

This handsome new (old) elephant is now wrapped up under the tree ready to resume duties when Jack opens him up on Christmas day.

Writer in Residence

We've just had our first writer-in-residence in the little bach in the backyard. Our friend Isabel Michell (below) spent a very peaceful and productive four days working away on her collection of short stories.

We've been adding a few bits and pieces to the interior since we repainted it last summer. It now has a little writing table and chair under the small window and a reupholstered vintage reading chair by the main window.

 The kitchen has a new jug, toaster, and fridge.

A new loo was plumbed in a couple of weeks ago, so the building is now fully kitted out for invited guests. Up next, Jack's writer brother Ken who will be staying with us for the whole of January.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Staging a Christmas Party

A couple of months ago I found myself volunteering to host this year's Christmas party for the team at Massey University's School of English and Media Studies (Albany). Staging such an event at Jack's family's eccentric property, with its ancient unpruned fruit trees, rambling and potholed backyard (not to mention two freestanding buildings on either side of the garden), meant that I had to think creatively about the flow of people, providing adequate shade, and making the various "zones" of the site serve different purposes.

First up, I thought it was high-time to paint the shiny lemon coloured walls of the former surgery waiting room to create a more inviting entrance. A couple of coats of "Moscow Snow" later, and some flowers and festive trimmings, and it looked like this.

The stars, paper dove garland and small wreaths adorning the window are from Trade Aid. I removed the squabs from the bench seat and wallpapered it to create an L-shaped servery where people could help themselves to salads and ham and chicken. I decided to elevate the meats on Nood side tables, with the added security of putting the platters inside the mesh covered baskets to protect the meat from a certain greedy cat.

I used the cabinets on either side of the blue room of the surgery for sweets and cups and saucers in case anyone fancied making themselves a cuppa. The sweet treats included homemade Christmas Mince Pies using the glorious recipe from the Little and Friday cookbook.

Kim's fruit-mince recipe is a total winner, with chunks of dark chocolate that perfectly complement the brandy, grated apple and mixed fruit.

From the same book I also made cranberry and pistachio biscotti, and fig and white chocolate panforte, which is so dense and rich that I cut it into little squares. To top it off, I made a double batch of Rocky Road from What Sarah Bakes. Sarah claims that it is the "best ever" and the guests seemed to agree. It's the slight tartness of the dried cranberries that is the key I think, combined with the copious amounts of chocolate, biscuit chunks, macadamia nuts and marshmallows of course. Yum!
Seating and cushions in the garden
a view through the fig and plum trees to the gazebo
Barman Jack getting ready
Zero on the table where I set up the stereo
The old dinghy under the fig tree for kids to play in
Jack came up with the brilliant idea of setting up a display of his father's old books in the storeroom, thinking that our bookish colleagues might find something they wanted to take home.
It worked like a treat. Box loads of books made their way to new homes! Yay

Of course, it's always the way that when the actual event is finally underway Jack and I forget to take photos, so we just have a few from early on in the proceedings. I forgot to take shots of all the gorgeous food people brought along. It was a great feast.

Jo and David
Rand and Brian
Stuart and Catherine
Three of my toys found new homes with the lovely Harris family (Matt, Emma, Cohen and Pearl).

Time for a nice cuppa at the end of all that.