It’s been a while since my last post. Suddenly I find myself in August and wonder where half the year has gone. I feel guilty and put off blogging, which makes me feel guilty and put it off again.
But here I am, back again, with tapping fingers and fizzing thoughts.
We moved house just over three months ago, which is, to be honest, where a great chunk of the year went. The preparations to move, move itself, and the resultant settling in process, took a surprising and significant amount of effort – mental and physical.
The house we chose was in itself quite a shock. It’s a 1950s ex-local, with steel door frames and concrete floors (no parquet, alas. I was hoping there would be some lurking underneath the ancient carpets). BUT it has space and light, and, wonderfully, the rooms have right angles. It’s also a brilliant blank canvas and the last time anything was done in it was 20 years ago, so I can set about ripping things out without feeling guilty that I’m re-doing something that was only just done by the last owner, and therefore being wasteful, or live with things which are perfectly fine, but not quite *me*.
So, here we are, in my blank canvas house, slowly going about the individual paint strokes which I hope will turn it into my masterpiece.
The first thing I did was paint the front door. Sounds perfectly run of the mill, but for me it was a revelation. It turned the house into our house.
This is what the house looked like before I got my hands on a tine or two of Farrow and Ball:
and this is what I did:
Quite a simple change, right? A lick of paint, some new door furniture and a bit of gardening. But now I feel, when I’m opening that petrol coloured door, a sense of belonging.
I wanted a little bitty project next, to take the weight off after the quilt was finished, so I decided to make a lampshade for the floor lamp in our dining room. I hated the old IKEA one so it was time.
The last shade I made, from the quilt scraps, found its home in my daughter’s bedroom and fits in with her green silk blinds and pink pom pom trim perfectly.
So, for this share, I’m cheating a bit. Ahem. I have a KIT!
My biggest decision is which fabric to use.
I recently bought the insanely gorgeous book, Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiro, on a trip to the equally gorgeous Fasion and Textile Museum with my lovely mother last week. (You must go to the museum, you must buy the book.) The book is full of glorious pictures which I found completely inspirational, but one of my favourite things was a blue and white lamp on page 167. There is quite a lot of white and blue in the book which I love, and there are a lot of fabulous lampshades, with all kinds of tassels and pom poms adorning them.
My first thought was an old clothkits shirt of my mother’s, which she wore when she was pregnant with me and throughout my childhood. I got it out, but couldn’t bear to cut it up. Do you remember clothkits? They were items of clothing which you bought in pieces and then sewed together yourself. I think they even started to make a comeback, and it wouldn’t surprise me.
Anyway, I love the shirt too much but one good thing has come out of going and finding it, as I will be wearing it a lot this summer.
So, I started digging through a load of fabrics I have stashed away, trying them out by wrapping them around a drum shade I’ve had on the lamp base for the time being.
Nothing was quite right, the Liberty parasols were too bright and I wasn’t convinced by either of the others. I have some other bits but nothing LONG enough. Then I remembered it. A lovely wool scarf I inadvertently boil-washed a while ago and kept because I’m a sentimental old fool. Except, it turns out, maybe I’m not a fool!
It was just the right length and width, so I just got cracking.
I won’t lie, it was actually pretty tricky. Mostly because my fabric was 100% wool, so it did not adhere well to the sticky back base. The instructions were good and the actual process was simple enough, but the technique took a bit of concentration.
Because the fabric was proving to be a bit of a pain in the arse, I used the slightly unnecessary measure of the glue gun (really, it was just an excuse to get the glue gun out, because I love it so.)
After carefully piecing the shade together and glueing the joins, I went in search of a fun trim to jaunt the whole thing up, and I found the perfect one in the form of this fairly understated, swingy grey fringing which I felt tied the shade in nicely with the base.
So, Sunday was Mother’s Day. We spent it at a christening, surrounded by plenty of new mums and women planning on becoming new mums.
What a startling reminder of those early days of motherhood it was.
The breastfeeding, weaning, baby Einstein, routines vs non-routines… I heard it all, and remembered more.
I remembered the frantic desperation of trying to work out how I was supposed to care for this tiny, fragile miracle which my body had somehow managed to create. I remembered clutching at all kinds of ideas, trends and buzz words, hoping in vain that one of them would unfurl from within me the magic of motherhood, and I would suddenly know how to get my baby to sleep, or maybe even (whisper it) sleep through the night. Big nope.
Most of all I remembered the feeling of being a crashing failure, panic at not being able to get it right, and absoute terror that I was doomed to forever get it wrong. The insanely high expectations I had for myself were compounded by post natal depression and the idea that motherhood was a sort of competition between women, and everyone else seemed to be winning.
Looking back on those days, however, I remember how often I was lifted up by other women, though I didn’t acutely register it at the time. The members of my NCT group, who were always there in the middle of the night and never judged me, even though I was judging myself. Our incredible teacher, who reminded us to be kind to ourselves and dropped everything to come over to my flat and help me get my tiny daughter latched on when I was beside myself with despair. My wonderful female GP who got me all sorts of referrals and without whom I may well not be here today. My best friend in the whole world, who came to me in the middle of the night with no questions asked, and listened while I cried. My fabulous mother, who never pried or preached, but quietly supported me through it all. She still does.
And today was International Women’s Day.
Being a woman is symbiotic, for me, with being a mother. I would say it was becoming a mother that actually turned me into a woman, though if we are going on the definition of a woman as a female over the age of 18, I’ve been a mother for almost as long as I’ve been a woman anyway.
I fully recognise, however, that this isn’t everyone’s truth, it is just mine. The beauty of womanliness, I reckon, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. You are womanly simply by dint of you being a woman, so whatever you are, is womanly. I think some people, who are not women, would do well to remember that. We define it for ourselves, not them.
We have all, as a sex, been raised up by generations of women who fought for our rights. We can vote, hold property, have abortions legally and safely, but we have an awfully long way to go still. The way women are shouted down online for having opinions and terrorised into silence, the way male politicians keep trying to chip away at our abortion rights, or benefits that overwhelmingly affect women, the horror of FGM. <This was a bad list to start, it could go on and on and on…>
The world has metamorphosised into something which our brave foremothers never would have predicted, but our problems still have the same root cause. The Man and its powerful, pervasive discourse runs deep and my voice is never going to be the one which changes as much as I would like it to, but if I can accomplish one thing, it would be to remind as many women as I can that we are stronger together. In my weakest times, it was the women around me who saved me in all kinds of ways; with cups of tea, cake, words of wisdom or of solidarity, or sometimes just a hug. And they did it without any agenda.
You might have noticed, if you’re particularly eagle-eyed, that my dining room table changed during my baby quilt series.
Our old table was lovely but the wrong shape for our dining room, and I wanted something with a bit more character. So, I scoured eBay, found The One and then had to feed it, very carefully, through a Victorian sash window to get it into our house. Our cottage is actually more like a warren than a house, to be perfectly honest.
Anyway, into the dining room it came and I immediately wanted to get painting. For this, I turned to my trusty Annie Sloan.
I discovered AS a few years ago, when we were still living in London, and I wanted to paint our kitchen cabinet doors. I was doing a bit of online research and came across her website, and it was like a revelation! I couldn’t wait to try it. Unfortunately, there were no local stockists and mail order was expensive. But when we moved to Sevenoaks, a mere couple of months later, a stockist opened up right around the corner! I was delighted and we’ve been together ever since.
So, back to the table.
It started out life something like this:
I loved the top but the legs were seriously battered. I felt it also needed a bit of colour.
There’s a gorgeous Annie Sloan shade called Provence, which I used on a shoe cabinet I painted a while ago and lives in our kitchen.
I felt like it was a bit dark for what was going to be the main piece in our dining room and wanted to brighten it up a bit, so I mixed approximately four parts Provence to one part Old White, which can be used to beautiful effect with all of the shades in the AS range.
As soon as I started painting, I knew this was the perfect shade. It just felt so fresh.
It gives such good coverage that I rarely feel the need for three coasts and this project was no different. So, after the usual two coats of my bespoke shade, it was on to the waxing. I decided to use the dark wax in the Annie Sloan range, toned down by som pie of the clear. The dark wax gives a really lovely ‘aged’ feel and picks out detail of your brush strokes, which I think is completely charming.
Here’s where you can learn from my mistakes:
This was WAY too thick. I completely forgot all of my previous training and just slathered it on. Big mistake. Huge. (I just watched Pretty Woman…)
The dark wax can be fairly forgiving, so if you do over-apply you can just work it in with a lot of clear wax, which has the added bonus of making your finish extra durable, but the amount I used was a bit much even for that. The final finish on this end of the table is still just slightly heavier than I’d have liked:
The rest of the table is much more restrained and I managed to get a good balance.
Can you see how the dark wax has highlighted the old flaws in the table leg? I feel as though it gives the whole piece an extra depth.
So, after the wax dried, the top got screwed back on and normal meal times resumed! The new colour looks just right against my new rug (which was a £4 bargain in a local charity shop) and I think it chimes in perfectly with my Sanderson peacock blind and the cushions on the Bergere armchair in the corner.
This neatly rounds off my only real opinion on decorating, which is to only buy or create things which you love. If you only buy when you fall in love with something, rather than buying things which fit in with a trend, or things which you think will ‘go’ with what you already have, I can almost guarantee that you will end up with a look that appears carefully curated and truly reflects you.
This quilt (and series!) has taken quite a while to finish off, so I must apologise for taking almost a month to post my final part. Sometimes life gets in the way and my evenings of sewing have to give way for a little while. But here we are, I’ve finally got around to it.
So, you have all your pieces, and it’s time to get the sewing machine out.
The easiest thing, for me, is to sew into blocks and then piece all of the blocks together. There are tons of other ways to piece and loads of advice on the matter, but I need it to be really methodical and intuitive.
So, I start to build block by block.
Press the seams open to keep things neat. Time consuming, but worth it.
For this design once the blocks were all sewn, they all got joined together with borders.
Once you have the top of your quilt all pieced together, line it up with your wadding (the blankety, fluffy stuff inside the quilt) and back fabric. I usually use vintage sheets for the backs of quilts because they’re lovely and soft, and large enough not to have joins in anywhere. You can use quilting fabric in a matching or contrasting pattern but you’ll have to have a join or two somewhere, unless you have a particularly small quilt.
To keep your three layers in place, you then quilt it! Most often, I machine stitch lines down the quilt, usually diagonally. With this quilt, however, I wanted to do it the old fashioned way.
Take a length of embroidery thread, doubled over, and sew it throughout centre join of one of your blocks. Cut the middle, where the needle is, and tie the two ends together.
Do this in the centre of each block and you have your three layers all held together, in such a delightfully old fashioned way. Sometimes, the ties are done on the underside of the quilt, but I wanted it to be a decorative part of the quilt.
The final thing to do is bind the edges. There are lots of different ways to do this, as a quick search on Pinterest will confirm. For this quilt I’ve done a simple edging strip all the way around, pressed it and machine sewn the whole thing.
And this is it!
Finally, with the scraps, I’ve made what I think is a pretty cute lampshade.
One of these days, I will splash out and buy myself a rotary cutter and mat, but for now I use old fashioned card, just like my granny used to (though, I draw the line at piecing it by hand. I did hand quilting once and it took me weeks!)
I only need two templates for this quilt, it’s lovely and simple.
So, now I brace myself for the cutting! Again, it’s important to be thoughtful about this process. Two of the fabrics which I’ll be using for the large pieces are a definite vertical design, whereas the other two could be used either vertically or horizontally. So, I’ll be using those vertical designs for fabrics 1 and 3 (you can refresh your memory of my design here), otherwise the quilt would look a bit weird and wrong-way-round-y.
FIRST STEP – washing and ironing! I can’t reiterate this enough. Wash your fabrics, especially if you are making a quilt for a baby, as those things vomit all over the shop and you or your friend will need to be washing it quite a lot. Then iron, so your fabric is nice and flat, and pieces together evenly. I always iron on the reverse, but I could be overly cautious. Leave the iron out, you will want to use it later to press the seams.
Then you can start cutting. Like I said above, one day I will treat myself to a rotary cutter and mat. For now, this way works just fine for me.
SECOND STEP – cut out your templates, remembering to add a seam allowance. I add 1cm, to use less fabric and because I use my machine foot as a guide, and it is a centimeter from the needle to the edge of the foot.
Make sure that you cut off the selvedge (the side of the fabric, which often has the name of the designer printed along it), as it often contorts the fabric. If you look closely here, you can see what I mean:
When you have all of your pieces cut out, you can lay them all out to decide exactly which order you want them to go in, i.e which fabric will be number 1, which will be number 2 etc. I usually have an idea in my mind, but it often changes.
Here are all of my pieces, laid out as they will be sewn:
Today I got a big parcel of beautiful quilting fabric, ready for me to turn into something special for a very special baby.
I couldn’t WAIT to open them, but first thing’s first. I have to start with a clean, clear table. So, I wiped up the mushed broccoli and unidentifiable sticky stuff. Then I had the glorious pleasure of spreading out my loot and having a good think about how to arrange it into a quilt pattern.
I was obviously feeling in the mood for blue and pink florals when I bought it all.
The first plan was to go for a large scale log cabin design, which would result in a square quilt. I did a plan that I really liked, but ideally wanted to do a rectangular quilt, so tried again with the idea that I’d make 6 smaller log cabin blocks and piece them together.
But then, I unfolded all of the fabrics to have a look and think about measurements, and I realised that I had three distinct groups – 4 small to mid scale patterns, 3 mid size patterns and 4 large scale patterns.
The more I thought about each one, and how best to display the fabrics themselves, the more I felt like creating a simple design that really showcases each design.
So, I went back to the drawing board a final time and came up with something that I think will look really stunning…
You can see that I changed my mind a couple of times! I decided to use four lots of the larger pieces, so that they rotated to give a bit more variation throughout the quilt. It should also be fairly easy to piece, as the blocks replicate themselves, so each large piece is paired with the same two smaller pieces, in the same order.
For me, it is definitely more important to take the cue from the fabric itself. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this one will turn out.
Keep an eye out for part 2 – the nail biting measuring and cutting!
It’s taken me a little while to gather my thoughts about what this new year means for me.
This year is a landmark birthday for me and the turn of the year has prompted me to think back over the past decade, as well as plan for the coming one.
Olivia Pope (one of my main role models, along with Meredith Grey ~ perhaps Shonda Rimes is actually my main role model. Perhaps that’s another post) puts a lot of emphasis on telling the truth – presenting her truth to the world. It got me thinking, what if you don’t know your own truth?
What if your truth is like a heavy fog, one which surrounds and permeates you, so that you can’t see it clearly, but is almost tangible. Almost. You can try to catch a wisp of it, feel its ghost, but not quite catch it. What then?
I spent a lot of my twenties, and before then if I’m honest, feeling as though I didn’t quite know myself. I needed someone else to look at me and tell me what they saw. So it’s just now, on the brink of my thirties, that I’m just starting to feel the first tingles of comfort in my own skin. They’re very tentative, and I haven’t felt this before, but I know what they are. They say you ‘know’ when you’re in labour (abso-bloody-lutely, you do) and I think this is the same sort of thing. With less screaming and, if you’re like me, agonising back pain.
There is so much for me to look back on and be thankful for; a wonderful marriage, two gorgeous babies, making a home and a life and friends and cake… But there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of things I would take back, if I could, a lot of pain.
I’m absolutely sure that there will be pain in my thirties, too. It’s how we grow, I suppose, how we find our truth.
Right now, my truth is still new and I’m finding my feet. The heavy fog is dissipating. Right now, my truth is bad dancing, laughter and telling people that I love them. It is disgraceful language, wearing a dress too fancy for the occasion and trying to say what I really think instead of stuttering while saying what I think I should say. It is art and colour and beautiful fabrics, and sitting on the sofa in my pyjamas, watching Harry Potter with my children. But, more than this, it is the fact that I feel perfectly at home when I am doing all of these things. It is me.
So, here’s to 2016. A year of being at home, and at home in my own skin.
I thought my first ever post should probably be a house tour, especially as this blog is intended to about everything that goes on here.
I’m a big believer in us all being as honest as possible about how difficult it can be, sometimes, to just have children, and a house, and animals, washing, cleaning, tidying, etc etc. So, this is my home, with no filter…
The hallway is quite small and we don’t have any built in cupboards, so I have a blanket box for chucking hats, gloves and wellies into.
I deliberately distressed the lid by painting it first in grey, then in white, and then sanded it all back, in some places back to the bare wood. It gets slammed and knocked about a lot by our children, so I figured it would be better if it was meant to look like that!
I love the things on this bookcase. I change around the photos and the drawings, each time one of the girls makes me something new. It will probably get a paint job at some point in the future!
I bought this wardrobe for my daughter’s room, but it wouldn’t fit up our cottages stairs! It’s one of my ‘projects in waiting’.
The person I bought it from had covered all of the panels with calico and cheap edging, which looked terrible and made me feel a bit sad. I ripped it all off and uncovered one beautiful carved panel and another missing, which gives me a great opportunity to discover how to replicate the design or somehow make the fact that it’s missing, a design feature. It’s going to be a big project so it’s waiting patiently for me to find the time.
The dining room doubles up as the girls’ craft room, so we need to have a wipeable table cloth and good seat covers for the dining chairs! I made the peacock blind myself and stitched it all by hand, because I absolutely love the fabric (Themis by Sanderson) and didn’t want machine stitching showing on the front side. I painted and recovered all of the dining chairs myself, too. Chairs are a bit of a weakness of mine, so I’m sure there will be a few chair up cycle posts in the future.
The dresser in the corner of our dining room houses a lot of my grandad’s old glassware. I particularly love the coloured Venetian glasses and water jug. I gold-leafed the wooden mirror myself and quite like the contrast between fancy gold and rustic wood, but I think it needs something *more*. Any ideas?
The corner of the dining room with the Christmas tree in it has turned into a bit of a junk pile since Christmas Day. I’ve had the sewing machine out in preparation for my next two projects, chair covers and a quilt for my best friend. I’ll show you them both.
The dried hydrangea heads you can see right at the top of the photo are waiting for me to decide what to make them into, so if anyone has any ideas that would be great!
The living room truly is where we do most of our family living. Right now, our eldest is immersed in Harry Potter! I recently painted the back wall a deep lavender and used silver leaf in the two alcoves, to brighten things up a bit.
The giant bauble might stay after all of the Christmas decorations come down, because I love it so much!
We use the fireplace constantly in the winter, and it’s a big part of why this is our favourite room in the house. The lavender on the mantelpiece was cut from our garden, which is a real labour of love for me.
The Bergere sofa is yet another project, I am currently upholstering two matching armchairs and have had to strip both of them right back to the bar bones of the chair. It’s been quite a steep learning curve but also really rewarding. I would definitely recommend taking a course if you’ve not done any upholstery before, as it has been very tricky at times and requires a bit of specialist knowledge for certain bits.
Seeing it all together in one post makes very visible to me the things that I want to improve, like making garlands for all of the shelves and finally finishing off my 101 unfinished / not even started yet projects. If you’re struggling to see the wood for the trees, lay it all out in a post for all the world to see – I bet it will work for you, too.