Friday, 28 February 2014

Swete Bag Class – Day Two

On day two Jacqui Carey joined the class. The class divided into two groups, one group continued to stitch their swete bags while the Jacqui taught the other group finger braiding techniques. Several years ago I took a one day class with Jacqui and learnt how to make twisted cords. I remembered it as a fun and informative class. I hoped that this class would be the same and I was not disappointed.

Wool Sample Braid
© Carol-Anne Conway

Jacqui first taught us the basic techniques using lengths of wool – it was easier to see the pattern emerge using thicker threads. Once we had a feel for what we were doing, we tried again with the silk threads we were using on our bags. When we all understood the basic method, Jacqui showed us several variations. She had brought lots of sample boards with her that had finished samples of all the techniques we were shown.

Silk Sample Braid
© Carol-Anne Conway

There is very little difference between the varios methods and at one point I unintentionally switched from making a flat braid to making a square braid.

© Carol-Anne Conway

All-in-all I really enjoyed the class. Lynn, Nicola and Jacqui are wonderful tutors. Meeting in person several people that I have got to know online was a big bonus as was meeting Micheál and Elizabeth Feller and seeing items from their collection. This class was originally planned to coincide with an exhibition of the Feller Collection at the Ashmolean but that exhibition was postponed and will now take place later this year. Hopefully there will be another class to coincide with it.

Happy Stitching

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Swete Bag Class – Day One

Back in August I did a two day class at the Ashmolean Museum. I had read on a forum that Lynn Hulse (Ornamental Embroidery) would be offering a swete bag workshop together with Nicola Jarvis and Jacqui Carey. I put my name down on the mailing list and waited for what seemed an eternity to hear about registration. In June I received news from Lynn that registration was open on the Ashmolean website. For some reason I, and a couple of others, did not received the original mailing but Lynn received some bounce notifications and resent the message to us the following day. I happened to be working on my computer when that message arrived so, knowing that places were limited, I immediately tried to sign up – only to find that it was already fully subscribed. I sent a message to Lynn to say how disappointed I was to miss out on the class and to wish them luck with it. It was fortunate that I did because Lynn contacted the Ashmolean only to find that there was a glitch with their booking page and there were in fact a few places remaining – one of which I was able to book.

I was rather excited about the class for several reasons. Although I had not previously heard of Lynn, I did know of Nicola and Jacqui and had in fact done a one day workshop with Jacqui a few years ago. I was looking forward from learning from these very knowledgeable and talented ladies. Secondly, I knew that several embroiderers that I have 'met' online were also taking the class and I was looking forward to meeting them in person. And thirdly, Micheál and Elizabeth Feller were to visit the class, bring with them a couple of swete bags from their collection.

On the first morning, after we had spent a little time introducing ourselves to one another, Lynn kicked off the class with a short lecture on swete bags, illustrated with a slide show of some very fine examples. Once we knew a little more about the history of swete bags it was time to get stitching. The design was printed onto the fabric and the threads were pre-cut so as soon as we had framed up we could get straight to the fun bit – the stitching.

© Ornamental Embroidery/Carol-Anne Conway

The original is worked in silk threads on linen using tent stitch over one and this is how I chose to stitch mine. I have done tent stitch before but never the basket weave variation so Lynn gave me a tutorial before I tried it for myself. We were advised to begin each motif by working the outline, then 'colour it in'.

© Ornamental Embroidery/Carol-Anne Conway

As promised, Micheál and Elizabeth Feller visited the class and brought with them two swete bags. One was the small bag with floral motifs that was the inspiration for the piece we were stitching in the class. It was wonderful to see ‘in person’. Unfortunately we were not allowed to photograph the piece, even for our own use, but there is a picture of this bag on page 115 of The Needlework Collection: volume 1 by Micheál & Elizabeth Feller. Pictured on the facing page (114) is the beadwork bag that they also brought for us to see.

Apart from the basket weave variation of tent stitch, I did not really learn any new techniques on day one but I still enjoyed the day and was really looking forward to day two.

Happy Stitching

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Rijksmuseum Revisited

As my sister-in-law lives in Amsterdam, J and I have become regular visitors to the city. One of our favourite passtimes while there is visiting the many and varied museums. The first museum we visited, back in 2001, was the world renowned Rijksmuseum. I have only a vague recollection of that visit – a stunning collection of art and history, housed in an over-crowded (in terms of display cases and cabinets) maze of dark and dingy rooms. There was far too much to take in in one visit and a return was always on the cards but a year or so later the main part of the museum closed for renovation.

I’m not sure how long the renovation was expected to take but I do know that it has dragged on far longer than was originally planned – and cost considerably more! The project was delayed by one thing after another: building the new metro line caused problems; a prolonged argument over the passageway through the museum ensued (the citizens of Amsterdam won and the passage remains open to pedestrians and cyclists); and seemingly more mundane matters like the colour of paint used in the galleries delayed progress. Finally, in 2013, the renovated, restored Rijksmuseum re-opened to the public.

The Atrium
© Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum, which from the outside has a look of a fairy-tale castle about it, first opened in 1885. It was designed by the architect Pierre Cuypers. Over the course of 125 years much had been added or altered and the building was in need of a radical makeover. The head architects for the renovation were Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz of Seville. Their brief was to strip out the later additions, restore Cuypers’ original layout and ensure that it was once again a coherent space. The challenge was to combine the grandeur of the building with the modern technology required to preserve and best display the art. What they delivered was a completely new and magnificent museum.

The Great Hall
© Rijksmuseum

Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who designed the interior of the Musée du Louvre, was responsible for decorating and furnishing the galleries. He designed display cases, lighting and plinths to fit naturally with the old building. The colour scheme, which was hotly debated, was inspired by Cuypers’ original palette. The interior has a very modern feel but one that blends beautifully with the fabric of the building.

The Library
© Rijksmuseum

A small annex of the museum has remained open while the rest of the building underwent its transformations and we have seen several 'special collections' but I have been eagerly anticipating the reopening of the main building. The reinvented Rijksmuseum is stunning. Two inner courtyards which were added post WWII have been transformed into a two-part atrium below and linked by the afore mentioned passageway. High above our heads a white metal ‘cage’ cleverly reduces the noise levels while letting light flood in from the glass roof and allows glimpses of the architecture. I felt a rising sense of excitement as we climbed the main staircase to the great hall. From here, there is an unbroken view (if you discount the hordes of visitors) through the double glass door and the 'Gallery of Honour' to Rembrandt’s "Night Watch" rehung in its original position at the centre of the building.

The Gallery of Honour
© Rijksmuseum

Given the crush in the main gallery, we followed the suggested route through the minor galleries before returning to view the paintings 'of honour' and finally pushing our way through the crowd to get a closer look at the "Night Watch". Information cards are provided throughout the museum to give a more in depth look at some of the key exhibits. One surprise for me was the library where the original design and ornaments have been preserved and, for the first time, is open to the general public.

Everyone wanted to see the Night Watch

The museum is still crowded but now it is with visitors enjoying the light and airy galleries. Only (only!) 8,000 of the museums 1,000,000 items are on permanent display tracing 800 years of Dutch history 1200-2000 AD in 80 rooms. It is a 1.5 km walk through all of the galleries but, giving the crush of visitors, don’t expect to go at more than snail’s pace. They anticipate between 1.5 and 2 million visitors per year and I think 1 million of them were visiting the same day that we were there. You still cannot take it all in in one visit but it is a museum that I will gladly revisit!

Friday, 21 February 2014

A City Break in Madrid (well, near Madrid!)

2013 was not all bad, some good things happened too! In September The description of the hotel said that it was located close to the historic centre with many restaurants, cafés and bars nearby. And so it was – just not close to the historic centre of Madrid! As it turned out this was a happy accident because Alcalá de Henares (Citadel on the river Henares), provided a lovely setting for a late summer mini break.

Calle Major, Alcalá de Henares

The historic centre of Alcalá is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and justifiably so. The area surrounding Cervantes Square has been largely preserved. The main street, Calle Major, is the longest porticoed street in Spain and remains essentially medieval even though it houses buildings constructed anywhere between the 1st and the 19th centuries. One house of particular interest is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Of course, I have heard of Don Quixote but did not know the name of the author much less where he was born and we probably would have walked right past the pretty 16th century house without a second glance had it not been for two brass statues on a bench outside. Even before we noticed the brass book on the bench we had commented that one of them looked like Don Quixote. The house, an intriguing mixture of Roman design and Moorish decoration, was more of a museum to 16th century living but it did contain a collection of Don Quixote works translated into various languages.

Don Quixote statue

Alcalá also proved to be a good base for visiting Madrid (our intended destination). The local bus service was frequent, reliable and very reasonably priced. The bus journey took a little over 30 minutes each way. We actually spent quite a lot of time sitting on buses; in addition to visiting Madrid twice, we transferred to and from the airport on the bus and toured Madrid on the Hop-on, Hop off Tour Bus. There were two separate tour routes; we purchased a two day ticket and did Route 1 one day and Route 2 the next (we’re adventurous like that!).

When not sitting on buses, we spent much of our time sitting at the afore-mentioned restaurants, cafés and bars. Food and drink was predictably expensive in Madrid but was much more reasonably priced in Alcalá. Regardless of expense I could not resist the culinary delights on offer at Madrid’s answer to Oxford’s Covered Market, Mercardo de San Miguel. The cast iron and glass building is a visual feast as well as a Smörgåsbord of tasty morsels and I wish I had foregone breakfast that day so that I could have sampled more.

Unlike most of our holidays, where we rush around trying to see and do as much as possible, there was something about Alcalá that compelled us to just relax and take it easy. Or maybe it was the unseasonably warm sunshine … or the abundance of good food … or the abundance of good wine!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Meet the Lodgers

This is a post that I had not anticipated writing. I have two new men in my life!

I grew up with dogs and have always considered myself a doggy person. When I first moved in with Jon he had a cat – a very charming tom called Tom! He died of old age on 7 July 2005, the day of the London bombings. A couple of years before Tom died we had acquired a second cat. It was not intentional. A girlfriend of my eldest stepson came to stay for a night or two while she looked for somewhere more permanent to live. Among the baggage she brought with her was a small bundle of fur called Fluppet. The girlfriend ended up staying for about a year. When she left she left Fluppet behind and her name changed to Tinkerbelle.


In June 2012 I noticed a slight swelling on her jaw and over the next week or so it got bigger. When I took her to the vet, I was expecting them to say she had an abscess but they said she had a cancerous tumour. It turned out to be a very aggressive tumour that grew rapidly. She was a very young cat when she came to live with us and I estimate that she was only 10 years old when she died 10 weeks later. The last couple of weeks, and especially the last weekend, were traumatic. She could no longer close her mouth and could only eat if I hand fed her, pushing soft food beyond the lump. She dribbled continuously and the fur on her throat and chest became sticky and matted. And, obviously, she lost a lot of weight. She looked frightful but, apart from the lump, she remained healthy and lively right up to the last weekend.

We were not sure if we wanted to get another pet but decided we would definitely not get one immediately. Every so often I would browse the websites of local cat sanctuaries but always convinced myself that I didn’t want another cat. I think I knew I was kidding myself and had subconsciously written a check list of what I was looking for. I wanted 2 cats, preferably two that needed to be re-homed together. I didn’t want kittens but nor did I want them to be too old, somewhere between 6 months and 3 years would be ideal. I wanted boys and they had to be house trained. And I didn’t want black and white cats – most of the cats in the neighbourhood are black and white and I wanted something different. It had been easy to tell myself I didn’t want another cat because nothing that fit my criteria came up. And then suddenly two pairs of cats came up on the same day. Two days later we went to meet them.

The first two, Jack and Max, were very much like Tinkerbelle, long paired and beautiful. They were 18 month old brothers. Their owner had died and they had been living with her nephew who was not interested in them. When he took them to the sanctuary they were slightly traumatised and rather shy. We thought that they would be quite content living in our quite household.

The other two were completely different - short haired, lively and inquisitive. Although they came as a pair, they are not brothers. One is 18 months old, the other 10-12 months old. We thought that they would enjoy our garden and the neighbouring school grounds.

I was totally torn between them, but in the end we decided to offer Fizzy and Fuzzy a home and they seem to be very happy with that arrangement. They will get new names but for now they are called The Boys. And I am really enjoying having them around (even though they are seriously eating into my stitching time!)

The Boys

P.S. Jack and Max were re-homed the same day and are reported to have settled in nicely.