Friday Salon: Project neatness

When it goes right, I do enjoy the look and feel of a tidy back to a project.  It took me years to work out that it was due to how and where you started and then continued stitching. Generally starting on the left without a knot and then doing a running line to the right and then back across your work (and then working downwards) usually gives a tidy couched piece of work.

However, that’s  not always practical.  As a European, I was always taught to start in the middle of  a piece, to ensure that you place the item correctly on the fabric. Books and charts all give you this direction. It often means that there are whole swathes where you a”start at the left end” and do a running line to the right.  Or you have to go up rather than down.

Since I’ve been looking around on the web, and buying projects from elsewhere, I’ve found that not all people work this way!  Many of the Americans for instance start from the top left hand corner and work down.  I have several charts that are printed in booklet form that direct you to start on page 1 (naturally) and work down and right for each following page.  In a way this does make sense, especially if you want to keep the back of your pattern looking good.  I need to try it out a couple of times however to see if I can work this way – after so many years of doing it the European way, it’s going to be challenging to do it any other way!

So do you aim for the back to be as neat as the front? or does this bit not interest you so much?

Book Review: Montmartre Mysteries by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, TR Sally Pane

monmartre mysteriesWine expert Benjamin Cooker travels to the French capital, where his is called to help care for some vineyards in Montmartre, a neighbourhood full of memories for him. He stops in on an old friend. Arthur Solacroup left the Foreign Legion to open a wine shop good enough to be in the Cooker Guide. But an attempted murder brings the past back into the present. But which past? The winemaker detective and his assistant Virgile want to know more, and their investigation leads them from the the sands of Djibouti to the vineyards of Côte du Rhône.

Published by Le French Book and obtained via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Number 8 in the Winemaker Detective series, and it’s winter in Paris about a year after Mayhem In Margaux. Benjamin has been tempted to the capital by a cryptic note, asking for his help regarding some vines growing in the Bretonneau Hospital, near the middle of the city. The vines are perilously close to dying and threaten to deny Parisians a decent wine grown within reach.

Montmartre has loads of memories for Benjamin, who spent much of his younger years in the city, especially before getting married. Before his visit to the hospital that contains the vines, he visits an old acquaintance – Arthur, a wine merchant with a shady past in the French Foreign Legion. However, Benjamin’s visit interrupts an apparent robbery, which results in Arthur being dangerously injured and taken to the hospital.

Benjamin and Virgile investigate, and there is much discussion about regionality within France, local pride and expertise in the local food and drink. The discovery of those involved is of secondary concern in this story, and as usual is a vehicle to convey stories about France (Paris in this book), regional food and drink and how to spot “non-natives”. It also gives a chance to hear about the buying of truffles (individuals protecting their “black diamonds” in bags, only to be shown to the serious of heart) whilst giving some insight into wine tastings and what people will do to get on the good side of the influential and powerful.

Cooker is able to use his position in the wine community to find things out that the Police are unlikely to find out. However, Cooker and Virgile are always on the periphery of things, don’t get involved with the police investigation and don’t get proper “closure” as to the identification of the robber – however, they are in the position to sit back, and see things from the sidelines, making connections where the police are, perhaps, unable to do so.

After previous books focussing on either Cooker or Virgile, this book had a nice balance between the two men. Cooker manages to spend time with Elizabeth, and Virgile takes part (off set) in a triathlon and places well.  Virgile is out of place in Paris however, and no match of Parisian women, so for once he gets no further than flirting and even misses a trick with an older woman trying to pick him up in a hotel bar.  The book is short, and the denouement traditionally short, but finding out “whodunnit” is not the point of these books…..

Recommended for those who like the journey, with good food and wine, as much as, if not more than the destination.


Sunday Salon: 11 Book Nerd Problems



Here are my 11 worst thing about always having your nose in a book: 

  1. Finishing one book and realising the next one is hours away (usually when you’re on a 5 hour trip, the battery on your audiobook backup has failed, and you will get to your destination after the bookshops have closed). Especially when….
  2. You realise just how many books you have to read even once.
  3. You realise just how many books you want to read again
  4. Knowing you can take only one book with you, and have to choose between the one with 100 pages left (that might just last you) or start the new one (so you wont find out what happens in the first one till later….).
  5. Choosing a book to take with you, only to find the last 80 pages are the beginning of the next book
  6. People wanting to talk to you whilst in public (e.g. at lunch or on the train) even when it’s clear you just want to read
  7. Choosing handbags based on how big a book you can fit inside
  8. Mispronouncing words because you’ve never actually heard them out loud—you’ve only read them in books.
  9. Watching an adaptation and the need to point out when they *get it wrong* (or chop bits out)…..BUT GIMLI IS A BRUNETTE!
  10. Finding out that coworkers not only don’t like the books you do, but admit they don’t read
  11. Family members who don’t hear the “I haven’t read this so I need it back” when lending them a book, only for them to give it away when finished and you never see it again

 Do you have any problems to add to the list?


Friday Salon: Art of the Stitch review

In 2008  I took the opportunity to go down to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and see the new exhibition “art of the STITCH“. I’d never been in the Waterhall section of the museum before, so got directions off a very nice girl on reception who pointed me in the right direction.

Whilst the exhibition itself was free, the guide that goes along with it was £6. I always feel cheated with items such as this, especially when they don’t do the items justice (some of the pieces here are only partially shown). I wasn’t going to buy one, but then saw some of the pieces and decided to splash out.

All of the pieces gave the title, the artist, their home country, and a summary of items used in the creation. A few gave a little more information and in many situations this was interesting and thought provoking. For example, for Sarah Brown‘s [UK] piece “84 Hours” the info is: “84 Hours reflects on the working life of William Wood, a bookbinder who died in Newgate prison in 1788, after being sentenced for two years for pressurising his master to reduce the working week from 84 to 83 hours. The book was bound from 6am to 8pm for six days, recreating Wood’s working week”.

Once in a while you get the following however (for Michael Brennard-Wood’s “the art of the stitch” [UK]): “Art of the Stitch utilises art movements, artists, dates and philosophies derived from fine art practice as a basis for construction. It can be viewed as a diagrammatic meditation on the interlaced fusion of artistic enquiry. Machine embroidered texts evoke both nametags and the desire to define a new artistic movement”. What a load of pretentious bollocks. Essentially he’s cobbled something together (by printing words on fabric and then cutting it out and pinning it up on a board) that doesn’t conform to any pre-existing named artistic style and is trying to therefore push it forward as a new style he’s created in the hope that someone thinks he’s fabulous. Putting up some baloney wording like that only opens up all art styles to be mocked.

My favourite piece was probably Mariana Fantich’s “Needle and Thread” [UK]. Hand Embroidery with Silk thread, this is a fairly large sized piece (100 x 100 cm), mainly silver on black. It’s the “portrait of a skinned man. The work juxtaposes the process of piercing fabric with needle and thread, and that of reconstruction flayed skin at the conclusion of an autopsy”. Whilst this sounds gruesome, it’s not, and the sheer beauty of the work is stunning. The Threads! The stitches! Just amazing.

Perhaps my second favourite was Zara Merrick‘s “Queen Berenice’s Hair” (also from the UK). that tells in almost a comic strip style, the story of Queen Berenice, a 3rd century Egyptian queen who sacrifices her hair so her husband would return safe from battle (it is turned into a comet in the night sky).

Anchor’s First prize (£4000) was awarded to the Lithanian Inga Liksaite (sorry for the non-accented S!), whose tryptic “white and blue lines” was quite impressive.

Could not understand why Jane Mckeating’s “How to sleep in half a bed” should get the £2000 second prize, especially compared to Fantich’s work (for sheer technical brilliance) or Merrick’s “hair” for entertainment value. Judging by the comments in the notebook, I was not the only one to be surprised either.

Other items I thought I’d mention: Beck Night (Wales) with the “Drunkard’s path” patchwork quilt made up of recycled Guinness bottles, that made me want to touch it just to see how hard it really was; Martina Grund (Germany) with her “Human Skeleton” of sequins (thought going through my head: ok, but why sequins?!); Susanne Gregg (USA), with her “Vases”, amazingly fragile and almost not there in the soluble fabric; Lizzie Cannon (England) whose “Lichenography” was disappointing, because the “camouflaging” of her textile lichens made it difficult to identify her work against the natural stone in the resulting photographs, which lead to 8 quite visually boring images.

Overall a mixed bag of work, most of which I enjoyed, some of which I took a decent amount of pleasure from and one or two pieces that I was disappointed with.

Book Review: Flambé in Armagnac by Jean-Pierre Alaux, Noël Balen, Sally Pane

flambe in armagnacIn the heart of Gascony, a fire ravages the warehouse of one of Armagnac s top estates, killing the master distiller. Wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to estimate the value of the losses. But Cooker and his assistant Virgile want to know more. Did the old alembic explode? Was it really an accident? Why is the estate owner Baron de Castayrac penniless? How legal are his dealings?

From Le French Press via Netgalley in exchange for a review. Number 7 in the Winemaker Detective Series.

It is early in the new year, and Benjamin receives directions from an insurance company to investigate a devastating fire in the Armagnac  area that has wiped out a large warehouse apparently full of stock. He finds out later that François, the master (and only) distiller employed by the estate, was killed during the fire that happened on Christmas Eve.   He also finds out that the local agent for the company lives in the area and Virgile is dispatched to stay there, in part to see what he can find out.

Benjamin and Virgile start to investigate and find the estate owner, Baron de Castayrac, to be snobbish, standoffish and barely polite. It’s clear that he is short of money, unable to provide even the most basic hospitality (compared to the welcome Benjamin and Virgile had received from Philippe and Beatrice de Bouglon the day before).   Benjamin tries not to judge about keeping such a château heated to any great level – it’s winter after all and he knows people with similar sized houses who complain about trying to keep such a place warm. However, not being offered even a cup of tea – something that would sooth Benjamin’s English soul – puts his nose out of joint.

As they investigate further they uncover undercurrents that are circulating in the area – that the Baron was not the only one to be sleeping around, that his two sons have plenty of reasons to resent him, as do other families in the area. Benjamin finds out that the Insurance company are right to suspect the Baron of some kind of fraud, but it seems that even after his arrest, it’s not the end of the story.

I’m not sure which came first – the TV programme or the books, but all the stories are short and quickly paced which makes it easy and fast to read. There is plenty of wine and food to be had, which makes a suitably stark contrast with the Baron, who wont even share a glass of water with his guests.  After seeing so much of Benjamin’s family in the previous book (Mayhem in Margaux), in some ways it’s a shame that the family get put back in their box, but hopefully they’ll be seen again soon.

For once Virgile isn’t to be found mooning after some girl, but making friends with a talented rugby player, with whom he has lots in common, at the beginning of a promising professional career.

There’s plenty of discussions around Gascony food, traditions and Armagnac, such as the Blanche d’Armagnac.  since I find it hard to describe the style of these books, I will provide an example of the style of the writing.

Enchanting frost crystals had formed around the leaded windows overlooking the estate’s pollarded plane trees. The water pipes had frozen, and the faucet was no longer working, but who cared? At Prada one was hardly inclined to drink water. Beatrice brought out some of her vintage jars of duck foie gras, appropriately truffled. A 1989 Suduiraut Cuvee Madame, exquisitely amber in colour, accompanied the feast.

I’ve found an interview with the authors from back in 2012 and can be found here.

A here’s an article on how Wine and (fictional) Murder seem to go hand in hand.



Friday Salon: Museum Visits

Something I haven’t done this year is make decent use of  is the usually free Museum and Art Gallery in Birmingham which, amongst other things, has what is classed as the best collection of Pre-Raphaelite objects in the world.

It’s free to go round the majority of the museum, but they put on additional resources that you may nominal charge for. My reviews of some of their events will be popping up on this blog once in a while.

One thing I have taken part in previously is their guided tours, which is £3 for a 1 hour (ish) tour round some of the items in the museum.  These tours are hosted by the relevant curator in the museum, and as usually, it’s success is dependent on both the curator, and the audience who have joined for the day.

I’ve had one not great tour, but most of the time they’re very enjoyable, where the curators not only know their stuff, but are amiable and passionate about their subject.  Most of the audience are middle aged or older (many are clearly retired and have joined Friends of the Museum), but there are occasional the under 45s turn up too.

So anyway, I’ve trawled through the calendar on the website above, and slotted the dates into my calendar. I can only go out on the weekends due to work commitments, and therefore some of the curated works are off the list.

Anyone make use of their local museum? is it free to enter, or do you have to pay for some or all of it?

What do you mean I have too much stash?!

i might win the lottery


Despite promising myself I wouldn’t go to the 2015 Festival Of Quilts, I have found that I have “magically” booked the Friday off work that corresponds to the Festival of Quilts. Surprise! I still don’t have a ticket, mind, but there are generally tickets available on the door on the day. Previous years I also went to some of the social events, and I’ve noticed that this year, the Gala Dinner is back on after a few years absence – however it’s black tie and I would be coming straight from work, so no chance to glam up before hand!

I already have loads of stash lying around the house, including plenty of fabric, but have yet to make something with any of it. Each year I promise myself that I will and the next year comes along and yet……Does anyone else find this?

I’m finding myself getting better at resisting actually spending the big money on stuff, often by not taking the cash with me in the first place. I think this year I will concentrate on some of the books, as well as the “necessities” (needles, threads etc) that will always be used no matter what craft you’re doing.

In previous years I’ve taken photos of the winners of the competitions, and I’ve kept them after deleting my other blog. I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do with them, and don’t think I will take photos this year.

I would love to hear about any Quilt Festivals that you’ve been to.  Is there a regular one near you? What was the last one you went to?