Monday, 31 August 2009

It's Not a Potato!!!

I had an all too brief hiatus from painting potatoes yesterday and it was good. I've had this commission outstanding for quite a few weeks, which is fine as the lady who comissioned it is well aware I have to concentrate on the spuds first, but I've been feeling the need to paint something that isn't a tuber for a while now.

Initially the clean white paper was scary, and it all looked very complicated compared to the simple ovals I have been working on for so long. While making the basic sketch I felt like my brain and drawing hand were creaking into an unused gear, with dusty cogs clanking and cobwebs dispersing. However, hours later when I realised the time and reluctantly dragged myself away from it, I felt so much better for having worked on something with shiny eyes, fur and a wet nose!

Unfortunately, it's back to potatoes today - seven more were brought round yesterday. Luckily they are all simple yellows & whites, so hopefully will be completed quickly and I can sneak in some more work on the dog without guilt!

Friday, 28 August 2009

Busy, Busy!

Another busy week has flown by, and unless you are seriously into paintings of potatoes, I don't have much to show for it! I have, however, sewn another little felt dog as after this week I had none in stock at all. This little chap is sort of a Jack Russell I suppose - he has the colouring, but is a bit round and cuddly. I've used the new lifelike eyes and a plastic nose this time which are absolutely minute and very fiddly to put in place - are they better than beads and embroidery?
He has a very smart navy blue bed, lined with my favourite Japanese fabric, baby blue printed with tiny dogs playing. As soon as his accessories are made up, he will be going on to the Etsy shop. I will be making more of these, kittens too, as in production terms, it's not long until Christmas - how depressing is that?

I have painted 8 more varieties of potato in the past 10 days - the new brushes are actually very good. Just as well, as Royal Talens never did get back to me about where I can buy the other type. Thought you might like to see this one, not yet finished I must hastily point out or you will think I have gone potato-crazy and am just painting blobs with Jack-o-lantern faces on them! But this variety is actually that colour and really does have cream semi-circles round the 'eyes' - one of the most interesting so far, and called 'Smile' for obvious reasons.

This has been a good year, despite the rubbish weather here in the UK, for getting exotic plants to flower. I bought this hibiscus a couple of months ago with flowers already on it and did wonder if once they had died it would ever flower again. Generally, if something has been cultivated in a garden centre's greenhouse, it is very hard to replicate the conditions at home and the plant is usually a bit of a waste of time. However, this week I was rewarded for the nurturing by this spectacular bloom with the promise of several more to come. Now if only I could raise hummingbirds............

A small update on the fires in Athens, which are out at last. Finally got to speak to my sister, and apparently the flames got so close they were licking the garden fence but thanks to a lot of hard work and bravery by my nephew and friends, the fire got no closer. The whole area is devastated, with only two houses in their block saved. A tiny miracle, their cat turned up three days after the fire having been missing presumed dead, dirty, thin and frightened but unscathed.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A Day of Ups & Downs.......

It's not even lunchtime & my emotions have been up and down like a roller-coaster already! Let's start with the fairly mundane......I finally finished the mauve lace fichu I have been knitting for a week. It was a fairly complicated pattern and involved copious notings on a piece of paper to keep up with the number of rows, increases, joins, and so many stitchmarkers it looked like a belly-dancer's necklace. I ran out of yarn about two thirds through as this was some given to me a while back (thanks again Jo!) and had to wait for a delivery of an extra ball. All the time I had a nagging worry about the end result....looks pretty with the light behind it, doesn't it?

Here it is in detail - you can see all my hard work..........but what about without the light behind it?

Ah, now here is what I suspected might happen but tried not to think about. Even after blocking ( with some very severe tugging) the yarn is so fluffy that the lace pattern kind of blends in to one.

You'd have to wear it with a bright white shirt to get any idea of the lace........ I'm so cross with myself! On the plus side, I learnt a couple of new techniques and proved that I can knit a pattern designated 'experienced'.

* * * * *

My car is quite old....there are people out there who have probably paid more for shoes than I paid for my little Peugeot. My partner rebuilds & restores vintage racing cars for a living, and gave my little car a real 'going over' when we got it several years ago, but hasn't done much to it since. So when the time for it's MOT comes rumbling around, I start worrying big time. Last week it failed the MOT but only by a couple of very minor repairs.....and today it has it's shiny, crisp 'pass' certificate and a stay of execution for another year. Phew!

* * * * *

Perhaps you have seen on the news about the fires in Greece this last weekend. Having lived out there for many years and seen a mountain burn to a crisp in 20 minutes flat while I prepared to take 4 children, 2 dogs, a cat and a parrot over the other side of a hill should the wind change, and my sister & her husband manned the hose-pipes, I can appreciate the severity of these annual forest fires. Every August when the trees and undergrowth are at their driest and most combustible and the Meltemi wind blows strongly from the Sahara, something sparks a fire - it could be a careless cigarette from a car window, the sun through a piece of glass, or even as in 2007, some crazy old woman & a box of matches with a grudge against her neighbour for not letting her graze her goats on his land.

This year, the fires were in an area very familiar to me - my sister & her family live on the outskirts of Athens, as do friends of mine, and news reports quoted the districts of Dionissos & Aghia Paraskevi which are right on their doorsteps. I telephoned this morning to find out what's been happening to discover that it's all burnt......but thank God and my brother-in-law's foresight in fitting a huge watertank under the house as well as my nephew's extreme bravery, my sister's house has escaped more or less unscathed. The houses around them are charcoal, but theirs is still standing. I am trying not to think about what could have happened, just so glad it didn't.

* * * * *

Finally, it's a bit trivial but it got me so mad I could have hit the woman concerned, I went into the Halifax to do my partner a favour and pay some Euros into his account. They are a big bank, you'd have thought this would have been quite straightforward. But no, I live in the UK where anything foreign is treated with suspicion and loathing.....I was swooped upon by the lady from the Enquiries desk and asked if she could help. At the sight of some crisp Euros, she asked if they had been bought at this, no, my partner works abroad & this is some of his wages. Well apparently, unless they had been bought through the bank, I was not allowed to even exchange them at this bank, let alone pay them in to an account. With remarkable restraint (what are the penalties for rapping a bank employee over the head with your knuckles by the way?) I walked out saying 'That is just silly' between clenched teeth, walked 20 feet to the travel agents, exchanged the Euros for pounds from a very nice man who listened to my story and said 'that is ridiculous, they are a BANK', walked back 20 feet to the Halifax and paid in the nice English pounds. ARRRRGH!!!! If any of you are bank workers and can explain the reasoning behind this, please do so because it beats the £*%! out of me!

Painting potatoes later on will be a nice relaxing therapy!

Thursday, 20 August 2009


I had to finally admit defeat and buy some more paintbrushes today. I don't know about any of you other artists out there, but I have certain little foibles regarding my painting, one of which is trying to use the same brushes for a whole project....a case of the quality of the work really coming from the brush not from me. Daft I know, but it keeps me happy! (Another one is trying to complete a project with NO second starts - I feel as if I have failed if I don't get it right first time...please don't judge me!)

However, after being my trusty servants for the duration of 60 potato pictures - and the book cover - I think it's time to put these brushes out to grass. Yesterday I would have been better off trying to paint with a clump of my own hair rather than these! By the way, if anyone knows where I can get hold of these, please let me know. I got them free with the Artists & Illustrators magazine last year but just cannot find them in the shops or on line. If you received them too and don't use them, I will gladly buy them off you as they were the best I've come across in a long while. They are Van Gogh Selected Filament by Royal Talens - the No.12 is the one I really want.

Those gloriously knobbly potatoes in the first picture are today's painting - they go by the fabulously descriptive name of Lumpers and were the potato that caused the Irish Potato Famine....see how knowledgeable I have become!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Good-Time Gal Gloves and a Very Long Walk......

Although these gloves/wristwarmers were completed last week, it's taken me a while to come up with an idea for the trimming of them. They have been knitted with Rowan Denim cotton yarn in quite a fancy looking stitch. Then I brushed them with bleach and washed them in dilute bleach in order to give them a faded, worn look. I have sewn lace at the wrist and a little ruffle of lace on the top of the finger edge, and added a tiny blue gingham bow. I feel like I should be serving in a Wild West saloon when wearing them! These will be up on Etsy shortly, unless you'd like to snap them up now for £15!!
N.B. Perhaps I should have done the hand-modelling before going blackberry picking! Apologies for any visible scratches, juice or stinging nettle welts!

About five minutes walk from our house we have the Basingstoke Canal. I must confess to not having walked up there for months - mainly due to having a dog that freaks out on the lead if he comes across another dog on a narrow path. My daughter and I decided to stroll up there to do some blackberry picking today (for freezing this time) and had a very pretty walk.

The sun was shining, and although it is hardly the heatwave the media keep banging on about, it was warm and pleasant.

Hard to believe there is a main road a couple of minutes walk away!

We picked a fair few berries, but most of the best ones were about 7 feet up in the air - my daughter's suggestion of bringing a step went down like a lead balloon.....

We walked for about an hour and a half, returning through a playing field where we bumped into an old friend we haven't seen for months which was a lovely surprise, and then back through the woods to home and a nice glass of iced tea.

On the knitting front, I am currently making a lace fichu (fancy name for a collar!) out of Sublime mohair. At the moment it looks like something the cat dragged in as it will need some serious blocking when finished. It's a clever design though - you knit the long neckband and tie first, cast off one end of the tie and then knit the lace from the next 20 stitches, joining it to the neckband by knitting the last stitch of the row together with a stitch that has been left on the needle - seamless! It's about half way there now.

And in the afternoons it is the painting of interminable potatoes.......59 done now.........

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Mmmm....Gingerbread Too....

And here are the finished gingerbreads, extravagantly decorated by my daughter! Initially there were 48 considerably less since they were left cooling in the kitchen unattended. (There are some in the biscuit tin, we haven't eaten that many!)

My favourites are the polar bears, made with a cookie cutter I had forgotten I had hidden away in a drawer. These cooling racks by the way are probably older than I am - they were my mother's and I commandeered them when she died. I also have her old baking trays and remember these things being used when I was a child - they probably date back even further to the 1940/50's. Even the biscuit tin these cookies will go into must be over 40 years old and an intrinsic part of my childhood. I love the thought that these utensils have been used in our family for so many decades and hopefully will be remembered just as fondly by my own children.


The recipe said this would make about 20 cookies......I think we have double that. These are now awaiting decoration - if they don't get eaten first!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Violets & Blackberries


Here is my first shawl using a Victorian lace pattern. I started with the simplest pattern, not only to get into the swing of it, but also because I felt it showed off the texture of the pale violet Habu Cotton Gima yarn perfectly. This yarn is very interesting - although it is cotton, it feels like paper, thin and flat, and the finished garment has a crisp, almost starched, feel to it. This does not mean it is uncomfortable however!

Here it is laid flat - I actually made it shorter than the pattern stated, not just because I was starting to get bored but also I only had two very small balls of the yarn and was worried it would not make the distance. As it was, after completing the lacy edging, I was left with the tiniest amount so it was the correct decision to make.

Just as a matter of interest, despite the fragile appearance of this yarn, it actually washed really well and after blocking (stretching it into shape while wet and drying it flat) it 'set' very nicely.
This will be for sale on Etsy shortly.

Despite champing at the bit to get on with more lace, I am actually pacing myself and have started some denim yarn wristwarmers - a quicker project this time!

Blackberries Galore!

My daughter and I finally got to go blackberrying this morning! Stacie has been impatiently watching the bramble bushes for weeks now since they flowered and this week the berries are ripe at last. It wasn't raining for a change, so we donned our wellies, left the dogs behind as they are a nuisance when blackberrying as they always want to run ahead, and spent an hour hunting and gathering. We collected just over two pounds - plenty enough for some jam and a pear & blackberry crumble for tea, with pears off our tree.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


I feel like the kid that turned up at school having forgotten his Show & Share object - I got nothin'! After the potato marathon of last week, I gave myself a few days off to catch up on some domestic duties, have some fun and to give my brain a rest. This week I have been working on the potato plant painting - nearly finished, about a fifth left to do.

I've been knitting a shawl using Habu Cotton Gima yarn and a pattern from the Victoria Lace book - that's nearly finished too. So maybe in the next couple of days I'll have something to Show & Share!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Five Potato, Six Potato, Seven Potato More.....

The above is the sum total of my painting over the past 10 days! Still one more specimen lurking at the back of my fridge which hopefully will be done today, and then I can get on with finishing the potato plant painting which has had to go on the back burner while I rushed through the live potatoes before they start to spoil and change colour.

I do hope that this book job doesn't type-cast me as a painter of tubers - I so miss losing myself in painting an animal or landscape. It is getting increasingly difficult to be enthusiastic about yet another potato....forty-four more.......

However, I have been enjoying my first attempt at a project from my new purchase, Victorian Lace Today. This is the most fabulous book, full of the most delicate and intricate looking shawls and scarves, each one prettier than the last. I have started with a fairly easy one, a simple 'V' repeat, and I am using some Habu Cotton Gima in a shade I can only describe as Parma Violets - hands up who is old enough to remember those peculiar little sweets that tasted of perfume! This yarn looks and feels like a thin strand of paper, so the simple pattern just accentuates the texture of the yarn. It's knitting up quite quickly, so it won't be long before I can start on the next one!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Are You Taking The Mickey, Amazon? (or a possible explanation to the dwindling rainforests....)

I've been waiting with excited anticipation for the delivery of a couple of books this week - one to read and one full of knitted lace patterns. However, when the Parcelforce delivery man rang the doorbell this morning and I saw the size of the box he was holding, my heart sank. Had I had an attack of the shakes while ordering and my finger inadvertantly pressed 11 instead of 1? It didn't weigh like it was full of books though........

.........there did seem to be an awful lot of scrunched up paper protecting whatever was inside.......

........about 4 yards of it! But there, at the bottom of the enormous box, nestling under this giant wad of paper, were my books.

Is it just me, or was this the most ridiculous waste? I am completely dumbfounded.......

Monday, 3 August 2009

Jasmine - a Wisp of a Shawl......

The above shawl was knitted in the Japanese yarn, Habu Silk & Mohair, shade 'Rosemary' . This yarn is an absolute joy to knit with, so delicate but strong, fluffy but with a silky sheen, and whatever pattern you use it with, it always looks great.

I knitted a simple lace edging and then picked up the top stitches to knit the plain main part in stocking stitch, finishing with a row of eyelets at the top and using short row shaping to create the semi-circular shape. I picked up a few stitches at either end to make the ties, and crocheted a picot edging round the whole thing.

To finish it off, I knitted the tiniest of flowers using Rowan Kidsilk Haze in the shade 'Icecream', and sewed them randomly across the shawl, with little vintage pearl beads in the centre of each one.

This will be for sale on Etsy shortly, or you can e-mail me direct.