Hands up if you have a friend who, after you have spent a day in their company, you realise that you feel inspired, invigorated, re-energised and excited to get on with things! You find yourself feeling focussed because you have had the opportunity to talk things through and clear a bit of head space, and you feel ready to tackle the world because at some point during the day’s conversation you came up with some ideas for simple actions you could take to get things moving again.
I am very lucky to have a friend just like that in Carole Fitzgerald of Lazy Sunday. We first met a few years ago when she attended a workshop that I was teaching in my studio – The Purple Thread Shed. Sometimes you just click with someone immediately on meeting them. When I looked up Lazy Sunday online and saw Carole’s stunningly gorgeous creativity around the whole food and dining experience I have to say I was a little awe struck.
Anyway to cut a long story short Carole attended more workshops, we got to know each other a bit better and a friendship grew. We realised that we both felt exactly the same wonderful mix of invigoration, clarity and energy in each other’s company and we started to look a bit more closely at why. For a start we were choosing to set aside a whole day for each other (we don’t live next door unfortunately), we would meet in a beautiful, inspiring space (we recognise that we create these quite naturally round about us) and we would talk…about everything. About work, about family, about the things that are ‘sticking’ us and about the things we would like to get off the ground. And while we were talking, we would be making something or photographing something … just creatively doing something!
We had a bit of a lightbulb moment after one particular day when we had been making a beautiful scrappy journal and Carole returned home and found herself filling this journal with new plans and ideas for her business. As she was writing and doodling and cutting and sticking she found that ideas flowed, tricky decisions became easier and the more she wrote down the more the fog in her head cleared. The next time I saw her, last Autumn, she showed me the most beautiful journal (far prettier than mine) and a new idea was born.
A Retreat called Nourish and Nurture
We decided that we wanted to share this creativity, this energy or process or whatever you might want to call it with other women. It felt so exciting and so absolutely right that we booked our chosen venue there and then. (Would you believe that they had one free week left in their calendar and it coincided with us both having a rare gap in our diaries – some things are just meant to be). So having made the most very exciting decision to just DO IT our Retreat called Nourish and Nurture was born.
Of course we have chosen the most stunning of venues – Cardy Net House in Fife – a house by the sea where we will make and chat and cook and eat and be for 3 days and 4 nights. We will consciously practice beautyFULL living and show you simple ways to bring this way of living into your home life – in a very real way rather than an Instagram photo kind of way.
I, personally, am totally excited about cooking together. I have always cooked to ‘keep the family alive’, to quote Carole Decker when she appeared on Celebrity Masterchef, but it’s definitely not my thing. However when you hang around someone who quickly, easily and utterly gorgeously produces beautiful food and presents it so that you just want to photograph it (and eat it) immediately, the enthusiasm starts to rub off. I’ve found myself feeling such pride when I put a big plate of stunning food on the table and listen to the family making the ‘mm mmm mmmm’ hamster noises and I am now smitten. I want to know more and more and can’t wait to take part in preparing our food open plan and sharing with others round our long table…and getting my hands on some beautyFULL recipes!
Escape for 3 days and 4 nights?
So, if by any chance things have been a bit full on lately, then maybe the chance to escape for 3 days and 4 nights to a house by the sea and become totally engrossed in making and doing and chatting and being might be exactly what you are looking for!
Spaces are very limited so give us a shout ASAP to claim your place at the table!
Carole and I planned to launch news of our Retreat months ago, at the start of the year, we know we’re late in doing so now. BUT life happens! We both run creative businesses, we both have family responsibilities – things haven’t gone excatly to plan this year for either of us. THAT really is what this retreat is about, acknowledging that and moving on anyway. So we’ve had to delay – no drama!
Following on from part one of this blog about my recent week teaching with Phil & Fran at Crafty Retreats in beautiful, rural France.
Although much of our week was spent in the studio we were also given the opportunity to do some exploring out and about. We discussed the options during our first evening and decided that we would have two half day outings. So on the Sunday we set off in search of tatty treasures at a couple of ‘Vide Greniers’. The first was pretty much a car boot sale with more people behind each stall than there were visitors – clearly a bit of a family day out. ‘Treasures’ were short on the ground though I did get an absolutely beautiful monogrammed linen sheet for 10 euro and Paul and I also found a great set of brass & copper cooking utensils for 5 euros. They’re not particularly old but beautiful crafted (Paul knows a good rivet when he sees one) and as we’re doing up our kitchen and kitchen related ‘stuff’ was on our wish list we were happy. We were even happier at the next stop when we found a set of small copper pans for 20 euros – these ones are old and will clean up a treat! There weren’t particularly rich pickings here either – just a few bits and bobs. I found some lovely old envelopes and Phil found a 1990s 1 year old child mannequin without a head or arms and priced at all of 4 euros it had to come home with us – worth it just to make the ‘it’s armless’ joke if for no other reason!!
We split into two groups for our outing with half setting off to explore the ‘butchers quarter‘ in Limoges and the other half of us opting to visit Oradour-sur-Glane. It’s a very sobering and poignant experience and I can’t even begin to tell the story here. It’s hugely thought provoking and should be experienced if you are ever visiting the region. I was truly fascinated by the number of houses with old Singer sewing machines amongst their ruins. I had been told to look out for this but really wasn’t quite prepared for the impact. I’ll maybe say more in a future blog, maybe not – maybe just something to ponder on myself!
As the week and our Patchwood Samplers progressed Phil had the wonderful idea of creating a ‘Group Sampler’ to display on their stand at the Festival Of Quilts. Everyone was tasked with creating a personal patch and Oscar the pooch agreed (?) to represent the animal team (2 dogs, 2 cats and 1 tortoise) by having his paw printed. He looks most engaged in the whole process!
Time did fly and all too soon we found ourselves on Day 8 with everyone preparing to leave on afternoon flights. There was some last minute finishing off in the studio in the morning (everyone did finish their pieces and some people even left with more than one), some frantic trying to fit into suitcases (although we had taken this into consideration in all our planning & designing throughout the week) and then we came together for an emotional ‘Show and Tell’. Even I, who had continually been working with everyone throughout the week, didn’t quite appreciate the extent of personal stories in each and every finished sampler. For me it is a huge mark of success when people get emotional talking about their piece of work and I think a few ‘family heirlooms’ were established.
The samplers below:
Celebrating a love of typography and all things sewing related. I’m particularly loving the cardboard child with the scissors in hand. I can just hear my ex mother in law saying – ‘that bairn’ll take its eye out!’
The samplers below:
Irish roots, a love of sewing and childhood memories and ‘sides to middle’ – see part one for the story behind this phrase.
A collection of family antique ‘treasures’ with a bunch of tiny wax flowers from a wedding cake. Can you spot the brooch by Hens Teeth?
The samplers below:
So many family treasures – an old christening bracelet and a grandson’s hospital tag, dancing awards and a pair of pliers from dad’s tool shed.
Three samplers celebrating a love of sewing . Loving the perfectly worked cross stitch pieces ‘for mother with much love’
The samplers below:
Stories of bicycles and breathalysers (see previous blog post), a lifelong passion for dressmaking a love of blue, labels and all things Liberty.
Sewing box treasures – an unexpected gift of a pair of old scissors and mother in law’s thimble -probably the biggest thimble I’ve ever seen!
The samplers below:
Celebrating family roots, a love of all things fibre and some naturally ‘mushroom’ dyed yarn.
Oh where to start celebrating the life of a much loved mum with memories from entertaining 70s style. Loving the fragment of ‘fur’ coat and the scrap of lurex fabric from the ‘party apron’!
The week ended all too soon. Despite teaching in the studio from nine in the morning until seven in the evening (and more) I left with as much energy as I had when I arrived and that has just got to be the sign of a fabulous week. A week of being so generously looked after by Fran & Phil and making such lovely new friends in the most very gorgeous of settings. I even got a ‘night night’ kiss from Tutu the dog every night (because I asked him nicely not because he was dishing them out I hasten to add). Actually if it wasn’t because I was coming home to Annie the Purple Thread Shed pooch and a little grandbaby, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to leave at all.
What next? We’re returning in 2020 for another week of Patchwood Samplers and maybe some Patchwood Tenements thrown in for good measure. And maybe even another week of something quite different – more news of that later. But in the meantime bookings for the Samplers has already started and as there’s only eight places I’d get signing up quick.
A couple of years back I received a most exciting email from Philippa & Fran of Crafty Retreats inviting me to join them in France in 2018 for a week’s teaching. Of course I absolutely jumped at the opportunity and planning began. Now, sadly, it’s all over except to reflect on a glorious week, lovely new friends and the satisfaction of seeing some beautifully thoughtful Patchwood Samplers coming to life over the time we spent together.
I got really excited when I started thinking about the actual programme for the week as I realised that we’d have time to make one of my full size Patchwood Samplers. My problem was the amount of equipment and materials involved and the thought of packing everything onto Ryanair seemed a bit impossible. Husband Paul quickly came to the rescue and suggested we both go, pack everything into the back of my mini clubman and have ourselves a road trip. So with the help of Tom Tom and several stop-overs en route we drove from Edinburgh to the Limousin region of France until, finally, we ‘turned left at the hole in the tree’ and arrived in the tiny hamlet of Mallety.
Any ‘nerves’ left as we went through the gate and a smile hit my face that I don’t think left me for the entire week. Gorgeous welcomes from Phil & Fran , as well as the lovely Lee & Jackie, a couple of ‘early arrival’ participants, and introductions to ‘Tutu and Oscar’ the pooches followed by a perfect cuppa outside in the courtyard. We were then shown to our ‘home’ for the week and the all important studio. I have to tell you that this place is stunning – I really am still grinning!
So time to get to work (still grinning). We got the car unpacked and everything into the studio. Phil, Jackie & Lee set to work hanging Patchwood Samplers onto every available wall space as I unpacked the boxes of vintage materials that I had brought from The Purple Thread Shed. I made up everyone’s ‘party bag’ and we were ready to go. Paul deserves a seat by the way having not only done all the driving but also having cut about 300 patches of wood before we left home!!
I always love unpacking the materials at the start of a course. I’d brought along everything needed to make ‘sewing box’ inspired samplers – vintage buttons & haberdashery, old floral French fabrics, handmade lace scraps that I’d found in the Textile Tent at Newark, old paper patterns and lots of other lovely treasures! Materials are really important – for me they have to be old and used, tatty and torn before they are of any interest, each tiny scrap embedded with its own hidden story.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of sunshine, food and cups of tea until it was time for Phil to do the airport run and pick up the new arrivals for the week. Paul and I explored our farmhouse – yes it was actually big enough to ‘explore’, unpacked our bags and generally wandered about feeling pretty smug.
I was heard muttering ‘this place is completely stunning’ – a lot!!
Did I tell you that there is a hot tub outside next to the studio?? There is actually even a hot tub outside next to the studio!
Suddenly everyone was here and we were all meeting for the first time, glass of fizz in hand munching on delicious canapés made by Fran. Our furthest traveller was Trine who had come all the way from Newfoundland and not for the first time either, such is the lure of this place! Everyone was shown to their rooms and before we knew it, we were all sitting round the beautiful farmhouse table having our first meal together. Gorgeous food, wine and chat with the loveliest group of women that I could imagine. Mostly people travelled alone, two friends travelled together and one brought her camper van, her husband and her dog setting up camp outside our farmhouse! With only eight participants everyone gets to know each other pretty quickly and something I really did love about the week was sitting round the table at mealtimes, sharing stories.
On the first full day we woke up to gorgeous sunshine (as we did every day) and everyone made their way to the studio for an impressively early start. I explained about my Patchwood Samplers and the story behind them and also pointed out that it was not only a week of making but also a week of listening and telling stories, of reminiscing and thinking. I gave everyone a simple handmade ‘sketchbook’ to capture some of the thoughts and information that we would be gathering over the week ahead.
Explanations over, work started in earnest as people started sanding their 24 ‘patches’ of wood. I showed how to start playing around with layouts for their Patchwood Samplers and then all the patches had to be painted and finished. This was a lovely social way to get the week started and this activity took up a good chunk of the day.
We planned an afternoon visit to ‘Marie-Helene’ the local Brocante and spent a lovely hour or so rummaging there for little bits & pieces that we could include in our samplers.
Yes I do realise that I have the best job ever!!
Back to the studio and to the really exciting bit of starting to design our ‘patches’. I love when everyone starts to produce their own little collections of ‘treasures’ that they have brought along with them. I always, always get ‘the envy’ at some of the beautiful bits and pieces. Boxes, tins and bags started to emerge with everything from real collectable pieces to the plastic top of a beer keg – memories of entertaining 70s (I think) style!
Lots of playing around. Lots of arranging and rearranging and rearranging all over again. Great progress made on the first day and by the time dinner was ready around 7.00pm, I think it’s safe to say that everyone was addicted! Another gorgeous dinner by Fran accompanied by lovely conversations left me feeling that Day 1 had been a good day.
Turns out that it wasn’t to end there though as just about everyone piled back into the studio after dinner. Entirely voluntary I hasten to add – there were no thumb screws used or even any threats (my favoured method of coercion). I left them to it and wandered off back to our farmhouse to fall straight into bed.
This pretty much formed our pattern for the week! Up early – delicious food – studio time – coffee & cake – studio time – delicious food – studio time – coffee & cake – studio time – delicious three course dinner & wine – back to studio for most but home to bed for me!!
The second day started with a catch up and then a lesson in planning and marking our patches for stitching and a lesson in using the drills including a health & safety warning about using drills after dinner and accompanying wine! I have to say that A LOT of drill bits were harmed in the making of these pieces, so much so that we enrolled Paul as official ‘drill tec’ and it’s fair to say that it was a role that kept him on his toes throughout the week.
I think people are amazed at how long these Patchwood Samplers actually take to make – so many hours of work go into them. I think they’re also amazed at just how addictive it all becomes. And all the more enjoyable for being able to wander in and out to work in the glorious sunshine.
Whenever things start to seem difficult my advice is always ‘put it down, step away and then come back with fresh eyes’.
A little wander round the hamlet of Mallety is just the remedy and Paul and I snuck off for a wee explore with Oscar the pooch as a willing companion.
The upshot of people choosing to spend so much of their time in the studio meant that some really intricate pieces started to emerge in the first few days and develop throughout the week. There is ‘thoughtfulness’ behind each and every patch and once confidence starts to grow, so does ambition. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for these – we’re continually problem solving and working out how best to go about things. I have no idea how best to attach a ‘plastic beer keg top thingy’ but if you give me a minute I’ll come up with ideas!
The lovely thing is that everyone soon starts to come up with their own ideas – most work, others not so much but the trick is to work out which it’s going to be before holes are drilled!
A bit of instruction on the writing of ‘ransom notes’ ( I let slip my ‘day job’ with that one) and Paul’s mum’s old typewriter allowed us to add text onto the patches. ‘No soggy bottoms’ accompanied a rather lovely pastry tin found at the brocante and those of us of a certain age may know the phrase ‘sides to middle’ – Lee tells the story:
‘Bed sheets tend to wear thin in the middle of the bed – sometimes an unwary foot can go right through! Instead of buying new ones, women would cut them down the middle then re-sew them back together with the worn parts at the sides and the less worn parts in the middle – hence, “sides to middle”. I can remember my mum doing this by hand – with a French seam! All this after a full day at work and with three kids to take care of!’
The gorgeous coloured stitching in the above picture is a pattern in bell ringing – seriously! The white plastic tube thingy and little bicycle charm is a reminder of a story that unfolded on the first day involving a husband (who is an expert cyclist), a bike ride on the scale of no normal person, a sat nav with no signal, phones with no signal and a random ‘don’t worry about me but if you could work out where I am that would be splendid ’email. This led to discovering he is over 60k away absolutely in the middle of no-where and trying to get directions to him (with barely any phone signal remember), darkness falling and finally a rescue mission. The white plastic thingy – a breathalyser from Paul & my ‘RAC driving in France kit’ was to check that Phil could drive after having wine with dinner. Luckily she could and the rescue was made and husband was grateful having already cycled around 80k and was at the point of looking for a barn without a dog in it that he could bed down for the night!
I told you there were stories a plenty and you couldn’t make them up!
Part Two of this blog with tales of our excursions and our final finished Patchwood Samplers to follow.
Oh yay to be sat at my desk today after three weeks of working on the building site that is currently our home. It feels great to have bare feet rather than wearing steel toe caps and its bliss not being covered from head to toe in a fine layer of plaster dust! I usually rather grudge ‘desk’ days compared to ‘studio’ days but today I’m feeling pretty content – making plans for the next few months and setting my priorities for the year.
So to start by wishing you all a very happy and successful 2018. I’m excited by my year ahead. Last year didn’t quite go according to plan so that’s made me more determined than ever to make more time for my own textile work as well as developing my textile workshops. I’ll look forward to sharing my news of ‘goings on & happenings’ here on my blog – I’m determined to make time to update it and get myself just a wee bit more online savvy!
I do already have some fabulous workshops lined up this year. I’ll be visiting Sally at Needle & Thread not just once but twice as we have just added a sneaky wee date in June in addition to my two day visit in September. In June we’ll be making Patchwood Tenements and in September we’ll be making Patchwood Samplers: Personal Collections and Scrappy Story Collages. Bookings are already underway and as always places are limited. If you’ve not visited Needle & Thread before it is a gorgeous venue in Lincolnshire where Sally runs a fantastic programme of workshops.
I’m hugely excited to be teaching on my first ever retreat in June this year in rural France with Crafty Retreats. I’m sure I’ll be banging on about this much more in the months to come but if you could fancy spending a week in the sunshine in the most gorgeous studio situated in the Limousin area amid the forests and low mountains of the Monts D’Ambazac then do check it out quickly as I think there are only a couple of places left! We’ll be making Patchwood Samplers – my original full size ones with twenty one wooden ‘patches’ all embellished with your own little treasures. It’s going to be the most gorgeous week of creativity, friendship, delicious food and local excursions and I for one have to keep pinching myself to make sure that it is for real!
My own workshop programme is currently listed on my website and I’ve made BIG changes to the way that I am doing things. I’ll be hosting workshops in two very lovely local (near Edinburgh) venues over the next few months. My venues have been carefully chosen as places that have the same quirky vibe as my own studio The Purple Thread Shed. I’ll be starting the year at the Wellbeing Lab within The Restoration Yard at Dalkeith Country Park with my first workshop ‘Patchwood Samplers: Personal Collections’ on Saturday 10th February and then in April we’ll be making ‘Patchwood Tenements’.
I do know that people love visiting my own studio so I will open the doors to The Purple Thread Shed for a few workshops in May & June. There are only four places on each so early booking is essential starting with ‘Handmade Journals’ & ‘Patchwood Samplers: Natural Collections’ in May and followed by ‘Rusted Samplers in June’. Hopefully I’ll be able to restore my garden to it’s summer glory by then – it’s currently looking very sorry for itself as it’s been been ravaged by the house renovations.
So that’s a wee round-up of what’s going on – I’ll be posting more details & pics of individual workshops as we go along.