Month: September 2019

Making Week 11: Portable Sewing

I went away last week and I wanted a portable project to take with me – and the papier mâché boats are not portable. It’s a great palaver just to move them to the garden as every stage involves lots of bits. I wasn’t sure how keen my friend would be if I arrived with masses of ripped-up newspaper and a bowl of wallpaper paste. Also she has four very large, extremely inquisitive cats. Matilda has at least established that the boats are boring and best ignored.

The little patchworks were the perfect project to take. The hexagons don’t quite come out at 6×8 inches but I’ll worry about that later, once I’ve worked out what I’m going to do with the mini quilts.


Each Month in My Garden: August

For the last few years the kerria has overtaken my long shady bed. In spring it looks wonderful and it blocks next door’s conservatory but by mid summer it has always grown too tall so the yellow pom-pom flowers are on stems 10-12ft tall. From a single stem it has spread the length and, more crucially, the width of the bed. Nothing else really grows here apart from some Welsh poppies and an aquilegia, which wasn’t very happy this year. The neighbours have ‘done’ their garden and we need a proper screen above the wall between us. When asked, I tend to say that flowers are the priority in my garden, followed by places to sit but, if I’m honest the order is privacy, seating, flowers.

On two sides ivy, kept reasonably under control, provides the garden with a beautiful green screen above the walls. Some years, when I’m organised, sweet peas, morning glory or cucumbers grow up the front.  The plan for the gap above the remaining stretch wall is ivy (kept very under control) with a rose in front which will the arch over the summer house roof, meeting the one that is already there on the other side.

The bed is not deep; about a foot down it turns into impenetrable rubble, so large plants go into bottomless flower pots to give them a bit of extra soil. I picked out every single piece of kerria root, leaving just a thin row of stems at the back of one end of the bed. Some of these stems probably won’t survive as I’m sure I will have damaged their roots but I’ve left enough, and the plant is tough, so I hope I’ll retain a slim, wafty screen.

The list of requirements for the rose is rather alarming: shade tolerant, soil tolerant, climbing but not too rampant, repeat flowering, fragrant, ideally not pink (the other one which arches over the summer house is a mixture of pink and yellow). David Austin’s ‘Claire Austin’ does all these and, by good luck rather than good management, the flowers are exactly the same shade of cream as the edgings on the ivy leaves.

I’ve replanted the aquilegias, alchemilla and a rather sorry-looking hardy geranium I found lurking between a mass of kerria stems. None of them looked particularly happy but with watering, food and a layer of mulch they have all recovered.

I have a very small shed, roughly the shape of a sentry box. The theory is that all my gardening paraphernalia lives in it, thus ensuring that the summer house does not become a dumping ground. Slowly, over the last three or so years, the roof of the little shed has disintegrated. I botched a repair with a couple of bin bags weighted down with old hoses. It worked but was not very sightly and clearly wouldn’t last for ever. Thanks to my friend David it now has a new roof which is waterproof and attractive. The photos show the spectacular difference between before and after.


Making Week 10: Miniature Patchworks

Originally patchwork quilts were an economical way of keeping warm. Old scraps of fabric were used and often the paper templates were left in for additional insulation. My fabric cupboard is testament to the fact that, for me at least, patchworks are not an economy. I don’t think I’ve ever made a quilt without buying some fabric, in most cases far too much. Rather than run out at a crucial stage, I buy ‘a bit extra’ and every time I go into a fabric shop I am seduced by a something. Often by several patterns, which then form the basis for a patchwork to be made at some unspecified point in the future. At the end of every patchwork there are always bits of fabric left, often too small to be of much use but far too precious to just throw away, which are pushed back into the cabinet. I’m not complaining, far from it, I love my fabric cupboard but every so often it needs a bit of a clear-out.

I am now making little patchworks. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with them as I don’t know that many miniature people (they’d need to be about 8-10 inches tall) but they are using up the scraps brilliantly and are also an unexpectedly good way to experiment. Each pattern is 6×8 inches with a 1 inch border. So far, I haven’t bought any extra fabric for them.


Making Week 9: Freezer Paper

A couple of weeks ago Ann Wood had a free tutorial for applique bats with very pointy wings. I’ve been fiddling with pointy boat sails so I read it with interest (thank you Ann for the tutorial – it was great). Stage 1 specified ‘freezer paper’. Being a Brit I had no idea what this was. Frozen baking paper? Waxed paper of some sort? A little research revealed that it is paper that is plastic coated on one side and that Empress Mills stock it. The problem is that Empress Mills’ website is very well laid-out and full of all sorts of enticing fabrics, some of which were even in the sale. Of course I bought more than the freezer paper.

The wavy lined fabric will be perfect for the sea, the green stripes for sails and the boats were in the sale and looked useful. The blue and white pattern, complete with beach huts and a light house was too charming to leave.


“Istanbul, A Tale of Three Cities” Bettany Hughes.

Istanbul is, for the adventurous, one of the best cities in the world. Bettany Hughes’ book about the “Three Cities” of the book’s title  is a delight to anyone who has enjoyed visiting that wonderful city straddling Europe and Asia. It has successively been known as Byzantium, Constantinople and finally Istanbul: the three cities of the book’s title.

Hughes describes how settlements of sorts have existed on the site of Byzantium, otherwise known as Byzantion, for some 8,000 years. By 670 BC it was a recognisable part of the wider Greek world, and by the fifth century BC was mentioned by Herodotus as the site of a pontoon bridge linking Europe and Asia.

She tells the story of how Byzantium became increasingly linked to Rome as the centuries passed and was formally incorporated as a province of the Empire in AD 73 by Vespasian. Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvain Bridge in AD 312 was a turning point in its history. By 330, it had become Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and subsequent seat of the Orthodox Christian church.  Its empire went through complex and brilliantly outlined cycles of growth, decline and humiliation before its final conquest by the Turkish Emperor Mehmet in 1453. However, throughout all its travails it preserved a remarkable Imperial court, distinguished by amazing and complex ceremonial.

She analyses the process by which Byzantium’s Turkish conquerors brought not just death and destruction but new vigour to the fallen city, so, as Istanbul or Stimboli it became the centre of another great power. The Ottoman Empire at one stage was so powerful it threatened the existence of the entire Christian West before it gradually decayed until its final defeat and dissolution as a consequence of the First World War.  Modern secular Turkey, under the leadership of Gamal Ataturk, emerged from its ruins after even more appalling bloodshed and hardship. Only thereafter did Turkey’s administrative capital move to Ankara, an efficient modern city, albeit one that has never had the slightest impact on the human imagination.

The book relishes not just the history of events in Istanbul but the enduring myths of which it was the subject: their imaginative strength inspired W B Yeats to write Sailing to Byzantium, “Into the artifice of eternity..” to “become a golden enamelled bird, in preference to any natural thing” singing “to keep a drowsy emperor awake of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

Hughes is a serious academic, a successful television historian and vastly experienced as an archaeologist. These qualities help her make sense of a city where numerous different physical remnants and cultural symbols and signifiers lie jumbled over, above and alongside each other in great confusion. She records, explains and popularises the long and eventful story, and the enveloping myths, of a city that has been a key element of world history for most of recorded time.  She writes “But, for me, Istanbul’s cultural and emotional strength comes from the fact that city’s narrative is not confined by lines in time. It is a place where people are connected across time by place, which is why I embarked on the Heraklean, sometimes Augean, task of using clues in the landscape to tell a story of this city from prehistory to the present”.

She dissects the Roman Via Egnatia from the debris of time. From its construction in the second century AD and running from Dyracchium on the Adriatic (modern day Durres in Albania)  to Istanbul the road, now often hidden or buried, has survived as a trade and invasion route for nearly two millennia.  The Milion, that old milestone, that still, just, survives in central Istanbul, marks its eastern end as a mere historical curiosity and indicator of distances in the fallen Empire. More importantly it is an enduring symbol of continuing trade, invasion and change over nearly two thousand years.

Istanbul fascinates us not only because it is beautiful and wonderful to visit, but also because it continues to be filled with events and personalities that are at the centre of Middle Eastern life and politics. Bestriding two continents, and straddling many different nations, beliefs and ways of living, Istanbul is certainly not going to go quietly into the night as President Erdogan of Turkey tries to enforce an increasingly hard political, religious and cultural line on what has for much of its life been seen as a liberal and inclusive city.   Hughes’s achievement is to make sense  of the ways in which Istanbul’s past and present, like Yeats’s verse, elide, conflict and influence the future of what is very much a continuing work in progress as well as home to many millions of people and a source of fascination and pleasure to all those who have visited it or know it in their imaginations.

Chris (more…)