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Friday, 16 October 2015

Inspired by autumn: leaf prints

I've had a few weeks away from my office job, so it's given me a breathing space and chance to do some printing. It all started when I picked up some leaves and put them in a leaf press which my son bought me last Christmas. I became quite fascinated by them. This year, the colours seem especially beautiful and intense. 

For the first prints, I just inked the leaves with printing ink which I buy from my local art shop or from Great Art Supplies online. It was trickier than I thought it would be. Too much ink is the problem, it needs to be a thin coating so you can see the veins and patterns.

Then I decided that I would do a lino cut print. I figured that leaves should be straightforward. Well, no, they weren't! The first effort was a disaster, I didn't dig out the lino deep enough and the result was no good. So, I had another try.

Here is my basic kit. Some cutters given to me by my Dad, white cartridge paper (Tiger's is good value and good quality) and some block printing ink. I use a glass panel on which to squeeze the ink, and a small roller to spread it evenly over the lino. I then place the paper on the top of the lino and smooth it down firmly using the back of a spoon. (that was an invaluable tip I got from doing James Green's excellent course in Sheffield earlier this year, see earlier post for details). 

My lino block is at the top of this picture, and I've displayed it on an article in one of Country Living's early bookazines, which gave me the idea for my design, along with this beautiful shot from the current issue of LandScape (I am a contributor and I love the magazine too!).

I was quite pleased with the results, but not bowled over. Too much ink is always the problem. I had various tries.

I was just about to put everything away and wash my roller and glass when I thought I would just use up the leftover ink on a piece of linen. I've tried fabric printing before and really enjoy it. 
It worked! I was really pleased and I do prefer this to the paper prints.

And here:

It's purely decorative as the ink is water based, but I might try some fabric ink next time. 

I really recommend lino cutting. It's relatively inexpensive, and there are so many techniques to try. You can trace on a drawing if you don't feel comfortable doing it freehand. It's also incredibly relaxing because although it takes concentration, you can't think about anything else at all. 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm also on Instagram, but try to post here about once a month or so. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

A B&Q she-shed!

For some time now we've had tumbledown shed in our garden. It was here when we moved in 19 years ago, and somehow we've never had the time or money to do anything about it. But things became critical when the shed started to sag alarmingly, and our neighbour made it clear that the ivy cascading over the roof into their garden was becoming annoying. Time to act. Here is the 'before' shot....

After a long trawl online, I'd found a replacement at B&Q. I chose this one mainly because of the log store, and the fact that it's the same size as the existing shed, so we wouldn't have to build a new base for it. For the princely sum of £212, it arrived within two days of ordering. 
I asked the friend of a friend to build the shed for me, as I knew the instructions would defeat me. He fitted it in between other jobs and the shed quickly took shape.

It's an unattractive part of the garden with an oil tank, shady areas, and a not so nice fence, so I wanted the shed to look as good as a shed can. 

A lick of paint helps - so many to choose from, but in the end I went for a Homebase French gray.

Then it was time to add some decorations. I used this beautiful plasma cut rusty wreath from my friend, artist Jeni Cairns. I found a tiny olive tree at a local market for £5 and potted it in an old dolly tub which I bought at a car boot sale last year for a tenner. A vintage 'Auction' sign from the US was the final touch. We've made a little stone path to the door, and re-seeded the grass around the edges. Some plants in pots at the corners, and it does look so much better, and will keep our logs dry for winter. 

I added some succulents for decoration too, as they seem to be pretty much foolproof. 

Unfortunately, there's no electricity inside my shed, or I might move in, just in time for the start of the football season :) 

Have a good week.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

New England Summer

We had a wonderful trip to New England, USA. One of the most striking and beautiful things about it are the buildings. We drove from Boston to Vermont, and then to Connecticut and back through Massachusetts, and everywhere we saw these amazing clapboard houses. Some are grand, some are small, some are pristine and some are scruffy, but they all have immense charm. I don't want to bore anyone with tales of a family holiday, but I did think that a tour of some of the beautiful buildings might be of interest. So here we go. This house was in Stonington, Connecticut, and came at the end of our trip. This is an old whaling port. It is now rather a quietly upmarket seaside town, I suspect that lots of these houses are second homes for some very lucky people. The high street was also very charming. I loved the jaunty colours everywhere.

Grey and lavender works a treat here.

Stonington's quaint high street. We stopped in a cafe with a view over the harbour and had lobster sandwiches and iced lemonade. Lobster isn't the luxury item it is here, as it is the local catch, so we were able to have it a few times and it was delicious.

We noticed how patriotic the majority of residents seem to be. There were stars and stripes everywhere!

This converted Baptist church was especially beautiful. When I was taking the photo, a man was walking back from the beach with a towel over his shoulders. "I should charge you for that picture," he joked. "Do you live here?" I asked. He said he did. "You are very lucky," I said. "I know," he replied. "It has been in my family for 50 years. The master bedroom is at the top of that tower, the sides are open, and we're woken every morning by the dawn light." At this point I probably turned 50 shades of green. I should have asked him if he ever needed a house sitter. 

Essence of a holiday....

Rustic decorations outside an antiques shop.

Up in Vermont, things look a little different. There are lots of red barns, rust coloured wood and cladding. This little dairy bar at Arlington is 62 years old, according to the owner. We loved it. After a day of swimming in Shaftesbury lake, we came here for fried chicken and homemade potato salad. Nothing tastes as good on a hot day cooled by the fresh water.

The covered bridges are a special feature of Vermont. They're built like this to be more weather resistant. Despite the shimmeringly hot summers, winter is long and cold. Does anyone remember a cheesy film called The Bridges of Madison County with Meryl Streep and I think Clint Eastwood? I am sure they used to hook up in a bridge like this but I can't remember where it was set. Anyway, no Clint here, in fact the place was deserted. 

The Blue Benn diner is in the town of Bennington, where we stayed for five days. It's a converted rail carriage, serving fantastic breakfasts. I recommend the pancakes with Vermont maple syrup or the French toast. 

Bennington splits into many parts. We stayed in the village area, which is quite a mixture of houses, shops, restaurants etc. Up on the hill is Old Bennington with many colonial style houses, built by the folk who made their fortunes in the pottery trade. This is the First Church, up in the old town. I walked up here one day when Perry and Carey had gone on an overnight hike, and I was the only pedestrian. Nobody seems to walk anywhere. It was quite ghostly padding around these gigantic houses. And none was more spooky than this.....

It was the only derelict building for miles. I was snapping away, when I saw a movement at the window, and I realised that it was inhabited. I was out of there in a nanosecond, knees knocking. I had a sudden image of ending up in the basement...

This was an aerial view of Old Bennington, taken from the top of the war memorial.

This was a special place. The poet Robert Frost lived here and wrote some of his most famous poems in the farmhouse, which we visited. It's still set out as a home, although there were rather a lot of 'do not touch' signs everywhere which I thought was a shame. I am sure visitors would respect the space.
My 17 year old son, had, by this time, had enough of historical homes. He stayed in the car. But I loved this place very much.

By contrast, this is our little motel room in Bennington. We chose very modest accommodation to make the trip affordable, and this was really cute. Run by a lovely couple, Al and Annie, who come to Vermont each summer to work in the motel. They spend their winters resting on an island in Florida Keys. 

Here we are in grandeur again. This is Harvard. While we were staying in Boston, we took the metro, or 'T' to see the university. I grew up with the movie Love Story, which was set here, and I've always wanted to see it. It was very beautiful, and very, very busy with tourists. 

And this is on the route of Boston's Freedom Trail. We did a very long walk following the Trail to see some of the city's most important historical places (and soon realising that we did not know our American history very well at all). There were so many beautiful buildings, and Boston is a lively and flourishing city.

Here it is seen from the water. We were on a whale watching trip, which was one of the highlights of our holiday. It was amazing to see the city from a different perspective.

Hope you enjoyed the whirlwind tour of some of New England's sights and stunning buildings. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Summer home and away

The rhythm of my days has changed, for a short time at least. I've started working in a magazine office for three days a week for the next couple of months. It's my first time in an office for 20 years, so I am still getting used to the change. I take a packed lunch. I rush out of the house in the mornings looking vaguely presentable, I have set hours and sit at my computer all day without jumping up to put the washing out or nip down to the post's very different. With one son away, and the other now 17 and very independent, it seemed like the right time to take up the offer which was made to me.
I continue to edit the local magazine, so my days are choc a bloc now. But there have been plenty of opportunities to get out and about. We spent a lovely weekend in Norfolk last weekend, and yesterday I went to a traditional village fete in the neighbouring county of Rutland. Actually, to be strictly accurate, the village is in Northamptonshire, a few metres away from the Rutland border (someone kindly pointed this out to me on Twitter :))

This was a proper old fashioned fete with a brass band playing, cream teas, plant and cake stall, books, bric a brac and a Tombola. It was drizzling when I arrived, but the sun soon came out and the cagoules came off. We sat in the sun on a garden bench and ate our scones and drank tea. 

Harringworth is the village, and it is famous for this rather wonderful viaduct.

It is such a rural county. There is no McDonalds in Rutland - or any other fast food chains! I felt as if I had stepped back in time. I soon had some company on my stroll. These ladies had squeezed out of their field and began to follow me. The pied piper of chickens, that's me.

Once they realised I had no food, they lost interest, but they did keep me company for some way!

We also had a great weekend away in Norfolk last week. It was a drizzly couple of days, but again, it was still very beautiful. One day we walked over the salt marshes at Thornham to the beach and on the second we did the same, this time at Burnham Overy Staithe. There were so many wildflowers, and so many birds. My Dad was with us and was able to tell us the names of everything we saw. These included a Spoonbill, Egret and Avocet. 

While Dad was spotting birds, I was fascinated by this bank of wildflowers. The others left us way behind! I even spotted some wild lupins.

It's such a dramatic landscape, like nowhere else.

Loved this little boat.
And this red one...

We walked miles. 

And blew the cobwebs away....

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Early summer days

This photo sums up the last few weeks in our area. Unsettled weather, intense sunshine, pouring rain, amazing clouds and colours. I take this back route home from our village shop, and the farmer has just cut a path through the grass. I can hop over the fence into our back garden.

The first thing I see in the garden is our old plum tree, now dead, but covered in these white clematis flowers. This is one of the first things that I've done in the garden which has actually gone according to plan! It has taken about four years to scramble over the tree, covering it with foliage and flowers. 

In the veg garden we have lots of rhubarb at the moment. I've been stewing it with orange zest, brown sugar and a little water, and serving it with baked ricotta and honey, a recipe I found in my Riverford recipe book. I highly recommend this combination. Last week, I bought English strawberries on the market and added those to the rhubarb before poaching, the flavour was fabulous.

I am supposedly decluttering (again) and I have managed to move some of my stuff along. But I saw this chipped, crazed old blue and white bowl in Age Concern for £2 on Friday and could not resist it. Despite the high winds and rain, seasonal flowers are everywhere. It's always this time of year when a house in my parents' village puts out bunches of lupins for sale. I look forward to them, as they are such a burst of dramatic colour and shape. When mum rang me to say that she'd seen the lupins and bought  me a couple of bunches, I leapt in the car to go and collect them. Lupins don't last long, and they probably look best in the midst of a cottage garden, but I had a go at painting them to preserve the memory. I had a lovely couple of hours doing this.

Incredible shapes and colours.

Just love this time of year, when even some of the most neglected corners of my garden look almost pretty.

And you can pick a posy from the garden in a few minutes.