Friday, 1 August 2014

Apsley House and Another Crafty Cuppa

I have been loving my Nice Days Out (not least because of the positive effect they've been having on my stress levels!) but it can be tricky fitting in a weekly trip within my budget. I bought a railcard which helps me save a bit on my trainfares to London, and my Art Pass has helped a lot too.

I've been trying to squeeze in as many visits to free-with-my-Art-Pass places as I can to get the best value I can from my membership. As well as saving money, this makes planning my trips easier as instead of picking something to do from the whole of London and several neighbouring counties I can just pick something from the list of places in my Art Fund Guide instead!

Recently I've visited the Handel House Museum, the Guards Museum and then in early July - when I needed to pick somewhere to visit before a Crafty Cuppa - I decided to visit Apsley House.

Apsley was the home of the Duke of Wellington and overlooks Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch (which celebrates his victory over Napoleon). Apparently the statue at the top of the arch depicts the angel of Peace riding the chariot of War (in its place originally was a massive statue of Wellington on his horse!


Dotted around the Arch are several other statues and war memorials - including the Royal Artillery Memorial, a Statue of Wellington on his horse (looking towards Apsley House), the Machine Gun Corps Memorial, and the New Zealand War Memorial


I found the Australian War Memorial particularly moving - it's covered in the names of the thousands of towns where the soldiers were born, and some of the small letters are picked out in a bolder typeface so together they spell out the names of several of the battle sites they fought in.


Wellington Arch is usually open to the public (for a fee) but was closed when I visited, so I just had a look at the outside. The gates are pretty spectacular...

... and there are more fancy gates at the entrance to Hyde Park (love that shade of green!)...

... and at the front of Apsley House (which is just next door).


This was an interesting house to visit! Only half of the house is open to the public - the private half is occupied by the current Duke of Wellington and his family. The rooms you can look round feel like a cross between visiting a stately home and visiting a slightly old-fashioned military museum.

There are lots of paintings, and a whole room filled with gifts given to Wellington by assorted heads of State (porcelain dinner services seem to have been a popular choice). There's not a lot of information on display in each room, but there's an audio guide that takes you on a tour around the house. There are introductions to each room, optional guides to some of the objects in them, and background information about the life of the Duke of Wellington (his marriage, his military campaigns and so on).

Rather a nice touch is that the audio guide includes the current Duke's reminiscences of visiting the house as a boy (sliding down the bannisters, etc!). Apparently there's also a collection of the first Duke's personal memorabilia in the basement but I managed to miss that (oops).

Then it was time to head to the V&A for a Crafty Cuppa. I'd planned on hopping on the Tube but decided to walk as it had turned into such a lovely day.


It's funny when you walk in London how your mental map of the city changes. I'd not realised that Harrods was quite so close to the V&A as it actually is! I must remember to pop in for a look round next time I'm nearby, as I've never been to Harrods before (or to Harvey Nicks!).

At the V&A I met up with Jo. We had a lovely cuppa and cake in the spectacular cafe then pottered about the museum, chatting about sewing and blogging and lots of other crafty things.

It was lovely to meet Jo after chatting with her on Twitter, and to have some company exploring the museum and some of its treasures. Seeing the awesome patchwork bag she made to showcase some of her recent stitchy projects has made me very tempted to sew something similar, and our chat about the &Stitches picnic inspired me to start sewing my mini moss stitch squares into a picnic blanket.

Which reminds me, I have some more squares to stitch together!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Skill Development: Adventures in Embroidery

As someone who sews stuff for a living (as well as for fun, of course!) one of the things I've been thinking about is "professional development", aka "wouldn't it be great if I learnt how to sew more and different kinds of things!"

There are lots of areas where I'd like to broaden my skills, but the one I'm starting with is embroidery. This is something I really enjoy and I'd love to design more embroidery patterns, but at the moment my skills are pretty basic and I stitch almost everything in backstitch. You can sew some pretty nice things just with backstitch, but I'd love to have a lot more stitches in my repertoire.

So, I'll be working my way through some stitch guides...

... trying out lots of fancy and new-to-me stitches, and maybe stitching up some samplers in the process? We shall see :)

I'm also planning on starting an assortment of embroidery projects from some of the crafty books in my collection (and hopefully finishing them, too, instead of just adding to my large collection of WIPs!). It'll be nice to try out some patterns from some of the books I've reviewed over the years and great to get some practice using different stitches etc.

Love embroidery and have a book, blog or other resource to recommend? Please do let me know in the comments xxx

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

A Hockney Exhibition, The Guards Museum & Making Colour

Early this month I realised that an exhibition I really wanted to see was about to close, so I re-arranged my schedule and went on an "emergency" Nice Day Out ... which turned into one of those fun and busy zip-round-seeing-loads-of-stuff days. 

After a lovely train journey spent chatting to a couple of very nice old ladies, my first stop was Annely Juda Fine Art (which is just off Oxford Street) to see their David Hockney exhibition, The Arrival of Spring.

This exhibition was quite wonderful! The gallery is split over two floors - the first had charcoal drawings and a slightly hypnotic video of a slow drive through snow-covered Woldgate Woods, then the next floor up was an explosion of colour with prints of Hockney's iPad drawings. I feel a bit mean blogging about how great this was after the exhibition has ended, but you can view a video tour of the exhibition here.

When I was looking up the gallery on a map I was delighted to discover that it's right next door to MacCulloch & Wallis.

Honestly I feel really dim for not realising that this well-known shop was so close to Oxford Street (and lovely Liberty!) and for never having visited it before. What a treasure trove of gorgeous textiles!

I didn't buy anything on this visit, but have added it to my mental list of places in London to visit when I'm in need of specific supplies... or a textile-y treat! Mmmm... sewing supplies....

After swooning over all that delicious haberdashery I thought about going back to Oxford Street and hopping on the Tube again (as planned) but decided I'd go for a walk instead. I walked down Bond Street & New Bond Street, peering in the windows of all the smart galleries and fancy shops (you can read about my previous visit to this area and its galleries here).

Walking past Asprey reminded me that there'd been a documentary about the store recently - I was delighted to find it was still available on catch-up when I got home (very enjoyable and perfect to put my feet up to after my long day in the city!).

I walked to Green Park fully intending to hop on the Tube there, but then looked at a map by the station and thought "ah, I might as well just walk!" As you can see it was a bit of a grey day but I find this is perfect weather for wandering round London as you don't get too hot. 


Green Park itself is not super exciting, but the gates at the Buckingham Palace end are rather spectacular. Plus of course there's the Palace itself to look at!

I went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace a few years ago (which was just as fancy as you'd imagine, sooo many cucumber sandwiches and the chocolates had little gold crowns on them!) but have never been round the building itself - must add that to my (very long) London To Do list! 

Next I cut through St James's Park. This is one of those places which I've walked past many times before but never explored. It turns out to be rather lovely, with a lake and lots of resident birds...


... including (to my surprise) pelicans!

My next stop was the nearby Guards Museum (which is one of the places you get free entry with an Art Pass, hurrah!). This museum tells the stories of the Foot Guards (the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards) who along with the Household Cavalry guard the Queen and the Royal Palaces.


If it weren't for my Art Pass I would never have visited this museum, but I'm very glad I did as I really enjoyed it and spent much longer looking round that I'd expected to. It turns out that military history is pretty fascinating and there are a lot of really interesting (and at times delightfully quirky) objects on display here. Oh and the Household Cavalry Museum (which is a bit smaller but has the added attraction of being able to peek into the stables) is just round the corner, so you can easily visit both in the same morning or afternoon. 

After my visit to the Guards Museum I looked round the neighbouring Guards Chapel which is a beautiful and quite moving space.

Then I walked through another bit of St James's Park, spotting the pelicans...


... a heron (who was hanging out next to the cottage built for the park bird-keeper in the 1800s)...


... and lots and lots of tourists feeding and taking photos of pigeons! I quite like pigeons (I even included one in my recent book!) but I'd never really thought of them as a London "attraction" before, but apparently they are (?).


After my wildlife-packed walk through the park, I strolled to the Mall and popped into the Mall Galleries to see their current exhibition (which, at the time, was a display of work by some very talented students).

I also stopped to admire the White Horse, which is rather lovely. Do not climb on the horse, do not feed the pelicans - these are not the usual signs you see in central London!


My final stop for the day was the National Gallery, to visit their cafe and the Making Colour exhibition.


I wasn't sure quite what to expect from this exhibition as I'd heard that like the recent Strange Beauty exhibition (which I was rather disappointed by) this was another exhibition where the National Gallery charges an entry fee for paintings which are mostly drawn from its free-to-view collection. But I do love colour, and I could get in for half price with my Art Pass (did I mention that I love my Art Pass??) so I thought I'd check it out anyway... and I loved it!

It was really interesting learning about the different pigments used in art history, and how they were discovered, developed and used. I spent quite a long time looking round and took quite a few nerdy notes along the way (mmm... lovely facts...). Even if you'd seen lots of the paintings before in the National's collection and knew lots about the history of pigments there's nothing quite like being able to see actual examples of specific pigments on the wall in front of you! Plus there were lots of interesting objects accompanying the paintings (like dyed textiles, ceramics and samples of the minerals used to create particular pigments), a couple of videos to watch about making and testing pigments, and recreations of how certain paintings would have looked before their colours faded.

All in all, an excellent end to a lovely day out. 

P.S. Planning your own Nice Day Out in London? Check out my London Pinterest board - I'm mapping all the places I've visited :) 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Show and Tell #13

Every so often I get a lovely email or a message from someone via my Facebook page sharing a photo of something they've made from one of my books, or using one of my free tutorials.

It's always awesome seeing these photos. They really make me smile and - no exaggeration - getting to see what people have been making from the patterns I put out into the world is one of the very best parts of my job!

So, today I'm sharing a few pictures people have shared with me since my last Show & Tell post...

Melodie made an iPod cosy using the mix-tape-themed tutorial I did for Mollie Makes. I love how she's imitated the magazine cover in her photo!

(It was also lovely to see other peoples versions of the cassette phone-cosy pop up on Instagram - a blue one, a pink one and, rather awesomely, one for an old walkman).

Melissa of Storybook Felts stitched a parrot from Heart-Felt Holidays (the parrot is one of the designs I contributed to this fun book). The parrot in the book was designed for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but Melissa's was used by her son when he played a pirate in a school production.
Sylvia has been busy sewing lots of animals from Super-Cute Felt Animals. In the book I stuffed all the animals but Sylvia is keeping hers flat and framing them, which I think is a very nice idea.

Katrina stitched a couple of the free patterns I designed to accompany Super-Cute Felt Animals. She enlarged my templates and made a happy starfish and a couple of shells.

Rosie used my felt owl tutorial to make a whole flock of owls and then designed a branch for them to hang from - such a great idea!

Kasia has been very busy and has stitched cactus brooches from my cactus pattern...

... a flower brooch (and a fab sunflower brooch) from my flower tutorial (originally featured in Made in Felt magazine, and now available on my blog) ...

... and has cleverly enlarged my leaf brooch pattern to make these leafy coasters.

And last but by no means least, Nicola used lots of my animal patterns from Super-Cute Felt Animals to decorate this special gift for her friend!

Many thanks to everyone who shared their photos! xxx

You can see see all the previous show and tell posts here. If you want to share what you've been making from my patterns (or from supplies you bought from me back when I still sold them) please do get in touch. Please note that I only share photos of my blog with peoples permission, so if you just want to share your work privately you totally can! You can leave a comment and link here on this post, send me an email or share a photo over on my Facebook page.


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