Thursday, 18 December 2014

It's All Happening Now!

Now that my brief foray back into soap-making and the world of Christmas Fairs is over for another year, my focus has returned once more to the work at La Petite Maison.

The reclaimed wooden floor

that I purchased back in May has now at long last been laid. The episode of the floor has been a saga of woe for over a year, but finally it is reaching a conclusion, and I hope that it will have been worth the emotional trauma, not to mention the considerable expense. (More on the floor saga to follow soon).

Mr Long Suffering is out of steam, and this coupled with the fact that he is a perfectionist has only served to prolong the agony of finishing the Petite Maison project. (I had thought that if there were ever to be a next time, I would hand it all over to a builder, but given the recent experiences I have had with tradesmen that would be a major trauma in itself!) 

My energy too has been completely sapped by the protracted length of time it has taken to get La Petite Maison to completion and I have begun to feel so fatigued and drained that every small task has become a major effort and I despair of being able enough to commence the work still required on the back garden.

Thankfully I found out that my tiredness is not due solely to stress and exertion, (never mind my getting older) - a low iron count has indicated that I am suffering from Anaemia. It is unfortunately not the season for Nettle Soup, otherwise I would have headed straight to the allotment, to the area beneath the Hawthorn Hedge, where nettles grow in abundance. However as a non-meat eater, I have been told that the body does not absorb iron as easily from plants as it does from meat and so a course of iron tablets has been prescribed.

Winter has begun to spread icy fingers across the country

and a four letter word has been whispered ...... SNOW!!

Social festivities have not really been at the forefront of my mind - I am just soooooooooo tired, physically, mentally and emotionally that even talking is too much of an effort. However I found some pictures that lifted my spirits and mood;

These fabulous head-dresses are from Worn with Love

If I narrow my eyes at the picture above, my mind is cast back nostalgically to another photo, taken several decades ago, when we gathered together as a family at a little house in Dulwich. The photo is  slightly blurry and tinged with brown; flares and winged collars were the style; Dad and my Aunt playing the guitar; paper hats adorned the heads of my Mum and Aunts; sherry glasses were raised in a toast to my Nan.

There was laughter and a sense of togetherness - I can almost smell the rich aroma of Christmas dinner cooking and the pungent scent of Popsie's tobacco hanging in the air. My cousin Laura and I, side by side - our attention diverted from the rest of the family by Laura's "Girl's World" Christmas present, that I secretly preferred over the Spirograph that I had received.

Time has moved on and Nanny and Popsie left us a long time ago. I am sad that I did not know them better. Popsie would have swopped allotment stories and shared his gardening knowledge with me, presenting me with his little brown paper packets of seeds, labelled in beautiful script with the names of the cottage garden plants that I love, 

 such as Hollyhocks, Foxgloves, Campanula and perhaps even letting me into the secret of his amazing tomatoes.

As I have gotten older, I feel that I have come to understand my Nan, and I have a feeling that her indomitable and independent spirit, 

undaunted despite living through two World Wars and the London Blitz, lives on inside me; (just as it does my Dad and my aunts). I know that she and I would have had a lot in common were she alive today.

So I will raise my glass - just as we all did so many years ago, and say.......

"To my Nanny and Popsie!"


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Return of The Soap Lady

The annual Christmas at the Barn event is over again for another year. To everyone's relief the weather held and the sun shone for us all day. As usual the day was a huge success and a large amount of money was amassed for the Cancer Charity. Most of the familiar faces were present, although we all missed Angela not being there this year.

Lucinda was marvellous - as lovely and welcoming as ever, while the excellent Nigel, ably assisted by Brad, did a superb job of keeping the traffic flowing smoothly along the narrow country lane, and ferrying us back in the Land Rover to the neighbouring farmyard where we had left our cars. 

An excited Cyril, (a lively Spaniel) was closeted, but later escaped, tail wagging exuberantly at one hundred miles per hour, frantically eager to participate in the goings on.  Unlike Flora's beloved cat, who once released from confinement in the bedroom upstairs, beat a hasty retreat under the table at the sight of so many people in the kitchen.

The soaps were duly admired 

and the stall complimented. 

I had no sooner arrived when I resumed the mantle of "The Soap Lady". 

The only problem arose when all the boxes that I had made up sold out first, leaving me with a rather bare looking stall and disappointed potential customers who wanted to purchase boxed soaps rather than single soaps,

but unfortunately the time element had rather dictated the number of boxes. Ah well, the very fact that the boxed soaps were so popular had to be a good thing, and my disappointed customers were informed that boxes were available to be made up to order.

This year I had taken my inspiration for the soaps not only from the flowers and herbs grown at the allotment, 

but also from a source that I have had considerable exposure to over the past few months...... namely a paint chart and tester pots!

Omitting the stronger shades that I have used before for my Winter Spice collection, I opted instead for a very subtle colour of soaps, lightly infusing them with different herbs to produce a soft palette of different colours.

There is no doubt that my duck-egg blue and pale pink display had more of the look of Summer than a Christmas theme, 

but with the sun streaming through the windows and the merciful absence of the raucous Christmas songs that often accompany many a Christmas Craft Fair, (Noddy Holder informing us again that 'It's Christmaaaaaaas....") it was hard to believe that it was actually November and Christmas is only a matter of weeks away. 

Indeed, I confess I was very pleased when several people commented on how "French" the stall looked.

As a well-earned glass of wine was enjoyed at the end of the day, everyone's thoughts turned to next year's event.......... After a night's rest it will of course be time to start planning again!

Big Hug and Thanks to Lucinda!


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Creating (Part 2)

I just couldn't resist! 

Inspired by my new book, my fingers itched to try out some embroidery, so whilst the oils cooled for my Cold Process Soap, I found some tiny scraps of old linen and began the first tentative steps (or should I say stitches) on my embroidering journey. 

I was thrilled as the small stitches began to build and take the form of a picture. After adding the final two stitches for the last little bird, it was ready to hand-stitch into a tiny heart shaped key fob, which I filled with some of the Lavender I had dried from the garden;

here is the finished heart - what do you think? Isn't is sweet?

A Cottage Garden 

The key fob is attached to the clasp on an old wooden box which is somewhere on my (seriously lengthy) To-Do List to sand and distress with paler colours, but unfortunately that must wait for another day.

With the first heart completed, I simply had to try out another design -

 this time A Tree.

After the tree, followed

A Daisy

which reminded me of the lovely chamomile flowers at the Allotment, 

so I added some dried chamomile to the lavender when I stuffed it.

The hearts are so tiny;

this is the Cottage Garden heart beside a pound coin.

Thanks to Caroline Zoob, I look at Nature through new eyes - envisaging how I can capture scenes that I see everyday through embroidery. The Allotment now takes on a whole new perspective!

Before I can begin on that project however I must continue to prepare for Christmas At The Barn and with the soaps all made, it is time for my favourite part of the soap making process and that is to decorate them. This time using a whole variety of the gorgeous flowers and herbs that I have grown at the allotment.

Here is a sneak preview......


Saturday, 27 September 2014


Last week heralded the arrival of the long-awaited Certificate of Completion for the on-going work at La Petite Maison. Hooray!

However, there is still a lot of work needing to be done, so with a deep breath and a longing for Allotment Days and other more genteel pursuits, it is Hey Ho and Off to Work we go etc.

One of the rooms still to be completed is my Creative Space.

Space is a must for anyone who has the slightest inclination towards creativity,

and for anyone like me who has several projects on the go at once, a kitchen table and work basket simply do not suffice. (Although I fully intend to spread out in front of the new woodburning stove in the kitchen extension on a chilly evening with knitting needles and wool.) 

But as Virginia Woolf so rightly said "A woman must have.... a room of her own."

Without a workshop or proper Creative Space, the pleasurable tasks of soft furnishings, including making curtains, lampshades and cushions et al, and most crucially soap-making are being conducted whenever and wherever there is free space - be it time wise or space wise.

Previously a small sunny back bedroom with French doors and wrought iron balcony overlooking the garden provided me with a delightfully pleasant work room, and is the one room that I am sorry to leave behind; but now in La Petite Maison, unwilling to sacrifice a bedroom and aspiring to a larger area for all my potential creative projects (most of which I have had to reluctantly put on hold since the inception of the renovation of La Petite Maison), I decided to convert the loft for Creative purposes.

Although the headroom is a little on the restricted side, it is perfectly adequate for those like myself who are of somewhat petite stature.

The loft space conversion was a lot more involved than I had ever envisaged, and so whilst the laborious work of cutting and fitting the cumbersome (and surprisingly pricey) insulation panels ensued, I took time to check out a few other Creative Spaces for inspiration. 

This French Sewing Room is enviable

and I love the light and airy feel to the room above.

The room below is located at Monks House

and was the workroom of Caroline Zoob.

Amanda Hoskin's studio

is full of her fabulous paintings of Cornwall

and inspires me to pick up a very different type of paintbrush than the brushes I have been using over the past while.

As the loft conversion progressed

and while the freshly plastered walls are drying, I indulged and tormented myself with a book by Caroline Zoob - 

whose gorgeous pieces of embroidery on old linens, inspired by nature, are exquisite and inspirational, and whose projects in the book entitled "The Hand-Stitched Home" tempt me to put aside all else and pick up my embroidery hoop.

My sewing skills have mainly been put to use on cushions and curtains and although I have always been enthralled by works of embroidery,

I have yet to attempt such detailed works as those by Jan Constantine

and Jo Butcher, (who paints beautiful pictures with her needle and thread),

the closest being when an addiction to cross-stitch developed into a fascination for redwork.

One Winter's day with time to kill and an embroidery hoop, needle, white linen and red thread, I lost myself in a world of French Knots and Daisy Stitches

and on the happy chance that I find myself with a further few hours to spare and space to work, I plan to incorporate this little redwork piece into a gingham and vintage lace edged cushion cover; 

My work may lack finesse and is sadly not up to Caroline or Jo's impeccable standard, but doing it was most enjoyable and rewarding nonetheless and has left me with a desire to learn how to embroider properly. 

Interestingly, I discovered that Caroline Zoob has recently been taking embroidery workshops............ so perhaps when the creating of my Creative space is complete, I will find the time to enroll upon one!!

Roll on that day......