Sunday, 9 April 2017

Painting With My Needle

For several years now I have been an avid admirer of Caroline Zoob’s beautiful creations. I had visited her stall at the Country Living Fair on a couple of occasions; purchasing her Faded Flowers fabric and lovely little handmade paper bags.

However, it was Caroline’s embroidery work that really inspired me and impelled me to pick up a needle and thread and start sewing. 

During the renovation of La Petite Maison, my sewing machine had whirred endlessly as I devoted my time to sewing length after length of floral linen curtain drapes, tablecloths and cushions. Now that these were all complete, I was at last ready to turn my attention to finer, more detailed and less exhausting sewing.

Closely studying Caroline’s book (The Hand-stitched Home), I began by embroidering little key fob heart on scraps of linen. Immediately I became hooked! Instinctively I remembered some of the embroidery stitches taught at school, but aside from the basics, I found that I was just letting my needle do what felt right.

My collection of embroidered hearts and pictures grew,

 but even with more practice, I felt they still lacked the finesse of Caroline’s exquisite sewing.

So upon discovering that Caroline was now holding embroidery workshops, I was determined to attend one to progress my technique. This week I realised that goal and on Tuesday, accompanied by Laura we set out to Bramley in Surrey for a “Painting with Your Needle” workshop.

Miranda’s light and airy garden room provided a spacious workspace for the eight of us.

The table was covered with boxes of threads, fabrics and most excitingly – samples of Caroline’s work.


I loved the embroidered wildflower meadow

and the still to be completed country scene.

Caroline wore a beautiful apron;
 that she had made from a vintage linen curtain, 

boldly embroidered with bees, butterflies, ladybirds, cobwebs and wildflowers.

During the introductions and as we all got to know each other, Caroline asked if any of us had embroidered before. Laura and I exchanged looks, 

(my latest heart embroidery)

but I was a bit bashful at showing the others any pictures of my work – feeling rather inadequate after seeing Caroline’s stunning embroideries.

We spent most of the morning learning the basic stitches – it was the first time I had embroidered using an embroidery hoop and it definitely helped to improve the neatness of my work. After a delicious lunch, (I must get the recipe for those vegetable pasties); Caroline showed us the technique for embroidering a wildflower meadow, including the use of paint.

She demonstrated the fishbone stitch on Laura’s sampler,

adding in more grasses and daisies.

My wildflower meadow was rather on the petite side and could definitely do with a lot more work - (looking rather pathetic compared to my previous embroidery attempts), but most importantly, I spent the time watching Caroline sewing so that I learnt several techniques that I hope will add that extra bit of texture and definition to my next embroidery projects.
It was a lovely day; Caroline Zoob is an excellent tutor; so talented and such a nice lady – Laura and I both enjoyed ourselves and came away full of ideas and inspiration. I cannot wait to begin my next embroidery to put into practice what I have learnt. I am sure there is a lot more that I could learn from Caroline, so I will continue to follow her on Instagram and eagerly await any future book releases.
Thank you for your encouragement and help Caroline and also to Miranda for your hospitality. 

(My handmade embroidered embroidery bag)


Thursday, 6 April 2017

Soaping for Self

The accelerating pace of life has made it difficult to find the time and energy to do the more enjoyable activities. Working full-time and other demands coupled with the now diagnosed fibromyalgia have made me feel like I am swimming against a rip tide.
The ghastly left arm pain that hindered me last year vanished as suddenly as it arrived…… and transferred into my right arm. Actually, there was an overlap where both arms and shoulders hurt so much that I did not know what to do with myself. Thankfully, the pain in my left arm disappeared but unfortunately, the intensity of the pain in my right arm doubled, so that I lose hours of valuable sleep at night as I toss and turn, trying to find a position where the pain will subside. 

Day to day tasks are a nightmare to perform; even filling the kettle is a struggle, and as for using the computer, well that is definitely an endurance test! I find myself filled with despair as I think of my poor neglected allotment and wonder how (and if?) I will ever be able to return it to the aesthetically pleasing, productive plot it was a few years ago.

The Doctor looked at me over his glasses as he offered me strong painkillers, which in ten years time will have rotted my insides and contributed further to enriching the pharmaceutical company. Another alternative option on offer was a drug that will suppress the pain messages sent to the brain - as if my brain is not already struggling to process information through the brain fog that comes through the tiredness and fibromyalgia symptoms.
However recently something happened that forced me to push myself through the pain and tiredness and spur me into action.
For the past ten years I have had a continual supply of my own lovely (even though I say so myself) handmade natural, herbal soap and although I had to defer soaping for craft fairs, while I endeavoured to get my life sorted out, I still had an ample supply of stock for personal use. Until now that is! My stock has not been replenished and if I didn’t act soon, I would find myself in a position where I would have to purchase some (worst case scenario) commercially produced soap. Well! That totally goes against the grain!
Therefore, I gritted my teeth, and focussed upon forgetting about the pain whilst I gathered up all my soap making equipment.

Things did not auger well in the beginning. My digital scales remained unresponsive and new batteries failed to produce even a flicker on the screen.

Ok, new scales will be required, but for now I would have to make do with an old-fashioned set and a bit of “guesstimation”. I reasoned that cold process soap making is on old traditional method invented long before the invention of digital scales, and as the intended batch of soap was for personal use, there would be no harm done.
I had unearthed a large tin of unopened olive oil and just as I finished pouring the oil into the other base oils, I noticed the expiry date on the tin. Bother! A month out of date! Too late now. I would have to proceed and hope that there was a bit of leeway before the oil turned rancid. Anyway – I reasoned that it was not as though I was intending to eat the soap and again as it was for personal use it would not matter unduly. After all, even if this batch of soap was a disaster, the process of making it should inspire me to revive my soaping again.
Oils heating gently, I looked for my thermometer. Oh No! MISSING! Now that was a problem. Ignoring my aching arm, I hunted high and low – I could overlook the lack of digital scales and also the out of date olive oil, but I really needed my thermometer. For a while, it seemed as though I would have to use more guess work and that this batch of soap really was doomed to fail. Eventually however, after a few frustrated mutterings, I unearthed the thermometer from where I had put it in “a safe place” and resumed the process.
For a while, everything went smoothly and I found the familiar soap making process relaxing and therapeutic; that was, until I combined the oils and lye and switched on the hand blender. My right arm gave an immediate burning throb of painful protest as the blender started whirring.
I was so close to completing this batch of soap that I refused to surrender now - so holding the blender in my left hand, in quick bursts I blended the soap mixture, waiting with bated breath to see if it would thicken.
Happily, in a very short time the mixture began to resemble custard and to trace. I had chosen a simple Provence recipe with Lavender and Clary Sage Essential Oils, half of which had ground lavender added to the mixture and the other half plain.
Despite all the hiccups, the soap looked and smelled good. I covered the moulds with a towel and left them to insulate for 24 hours, with delicious scents of lavender and sage pervading the room.
The next day I removed the soaps from the moulds. Hooray! It had worked and the soap was a success. 

After cutting and leaving them to cure, I decorated a few, as I would normally do for the fairs and for orders. 

Decorated soaps always look good placed in the bathroom or en-suite for guests to use.

Despite the mishaps in production the soaps turned out well, and shortly after this I made another batch - happily without any issues. Personal stocks replenished I am suddenly eager to start soaping again. 


(PS I wrote this post a few weeks ago, but accidentally and most annoyingly somehow managed to delete all the photos I had taken!)