Friday, 18 January 2013

The Icicle Flower

The Snowdrop

Already now the snowdrop dares appear,
The first pale blossom of th'unripen'd year;
As Flora's breath, by some transforming power,
Had chang'd an icicle into a flower,
It's name and hue the scentless plant retains,
And winter lingers in its icy veins.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld

(c. 1766)
Each morning as we drive along the plateau where the Vouvray vineyards stretch out as far as the eye can see, Angélique chimes out: 'but Mummy why do the vineyards not have leaves?' (Please insert here a charming but somewhat affected-sounding French intonation.)  My immediate response is always: 'because it's winter and the vines are sleeping'.  This morning after dropping her off at the childminder's and popping back to check on Héloïse, freshly out of hospital after a wisdom teeth extraction, I returned to the vines to ponder over a worthy answer to my youngest daughter's question.
As I bent over those gnarled, twisted, slumbering stumps, coated in lichen and frost,  I thought how the next time Angélique would pop that recurrent question I would start off by telling her how funny it is that trees get naked in winter whilst we pile on extra clothes.  I might then go on to explain (in simpler terms) that in the depths of winter water turns into snow and ice so the vines cannot drink and so they pare down to a minimum.  Growth requires food and water, so they stop growing, and since the most growth happens in the leaves, the leaves fall.  I often marvel how in winter the vines look as though they might be perishing.  They are, of course, very much alive, their attention simply turning inward as they become a stark silhouette of inscrutable branches.  Come March they will begin to sprout tiny green shoots.  In May they will abound with vivid green foliage.  And the miracle starts all over again.
Should my answer discourage Angélique from posing this question again, I remain confident that she will find dozens more to ask before our short car journey is done.

Our long, wooden table is graced with an exuberant display of pink hyacinths which spill their scent and blooms over us.  I think of the gardens of Versailles and how the Sun King would order his gardeners to dig out and replant thousands and thousands of hyacinth bulbs, white, blue, and reddy-pink, overnight so that his courtiers and guests would marvel at the magical transformation which had taken place in the flowerbeds whilst they slept.  I also smile at how both courtiers and guests would be driven away from the gardens by the overwhelming scent of hyacinths.  We only have seven bulbs, thankfully.
There has been a lot of dreaming and creating this past fortnight.  I intend to continue dreaming and creating for the whole of this year (and beyond).  I have plans but I must work hard (around my children) to bring these plans to fruition.  I'm thrilled and candid all at the same time.  I generally consider myself to be a plodder who likes to run.  Small, constant steps forward work best for me.  Meanwhile I have been graced with hare orders and deeply, deeply touched by the kindness of others who communicate with me, by email mostly, their sweet, generous words of encouragement.  How may I express my gratitude to these wonderful souls?  Perhaps by endeavouring to create better.
I am caught between loving winter and feeling excited about the creative possibilities spring will bring: think of all those spring and Easter hares!  Angélique's third birthday is fast approaching with Tristan's hot on its tracks.  I love this time of year.  It's all about expectation and hope (as long as you can dodge the seasonal flu and cold viruses).

I made Mademoiselle Snowdrop because there is something magical about midwinter flowers.  They grow in shady places, their feet firmly planted in icy winter but are also the heralds of the glorious pageant of spring flowers. I think snowdrops are sweet-natured, timid, generous flowers (in Why Is The Snow White?  Snowdrop is the only flower to give her colour to Father Snow) and I am pretty certain they chime when they sing although, perhaps, their voices are mostly muffled by snowfall and howling winds.
I am fortunate to have a friend who specialises in French lace and fabrics who has recently supplied me with all manner of early twentieth-century lace and fabrics.  Mademoiselle Snowdrop's dress is fashioned from a piece of delicate French lawn and her body is made from hand-dyed linen.  I think of her more as a family keepsake than a toy.  She's off on her travels now and I shall miss her.  I love snowdrops (enough to have commissioned a pretty snowdrop necklace from Emma at Silverpebble last year).  After making Mademoiselle Snowdrop I re-read Monty Don's words as he describes the long parade of white flowers in his garden in The Ivington Diaries:

all [...] white flowers hint at other colours, and all need green to seem as white as possible. Green is the context that makes white look simultaneously rich and etheral.  White flowers tend to have less form and bulk than darker colours - this is because white bleaches out into the space around the plant. [...] White looks better within defined green shapes and contained areas.  At Sissinghurst this is done by edging the smaller beds with box hedges that are higher than the paths that divide them.  This creates an effect of boxes out of which the white planting erupts and doubles the amount of green in the garden.  It is a detail but one of real genius.

And finally, do the followers of Vanessa'a muched loved blog, Do You Mind If I Knit?  remember these pictures of a Snowdrop Theatre?  I love it and I miss Vanessa sorely.  Don't you?

I hope your weekend is peaceful and inspiring.

A bientôt,


ps Thank you to all of you who have visited Madame Millefeuilles recently where I am now at over 500 likers.

Thursday, 3 January 2013


 The Old and the New sharing a similar colour theme: 
1. A hand-stitched instrument case hastily put together when I received my Baroque oboe in 2008 wrapped up in newspaper!  For the smattering of readers who have been following me since I started Millefeuilles in June 2011 you will perhaps recall that I used a detail of the embroidered flowers for my first header.
2, 3, and 4. My twelfth and last pullover for the 12 Sweaters in 2012 over on Ravlery which has now become 13 Sweaters in 2013.  I remain undecided about whether to participate this year for the simple reason that I have set myself some other challenges which I am so very excited about.  Very excited indeed!  I cannot wait to share them with you.
The pattern for this little knit is Bella by Dani Sunshine which, should you wish to purchase it, comes together with Beck in an ebook called Small Streams.  The yarn is from The Uncommon Thread in the Confetti colourway: flashes of bright colours on a muted celadon.  A match made in Heaven which made for an amazing knitting experience.  As I type these words little Angélique, who is running around on her tiptoes (why isn't she wearing her slippers?), is wearing her new cardigan and it fits her beautifully.   It is also the softest knitted garment in her wardrobe to date. I am so happy with it as she is too.  Her eyes lit up when she caught sight of her completed Winter Confetti.  What a perfect image to celebrate the New Year with.  A multitude of coloured pieces of paper dotting the sky and ground at celebrations and at carnival.  (The origins are from the Latin confetti the plural of confetto, a small sweet. Interestingly, the Italian word for paper confetti is coriandoli which refers to the coriander seeds originally contained within the sweet.)  Confetti captures perfectly the way I perceive life: small, perfect, magical moments gently falling upon our everyday existence in plentiful quantities.  May each day of your new year have a generous dusting of confetti moments.  Which would you prefer?  Bright or muted colours?
The Uncommon Thread is filling her shop with a generous supply of new yarns tomorrow January 4th!  Be warned: this BFL wool is dangerously addictive.
Happy 2013 to you all!
A bientôt,

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