Thursday, 18 December 2014

Sugar Plum

 Dear friends,
The hours of daylight are at their shortest as we approach the winter solstice and again, as with each passing year, I find that "carpe diem" and "wonder" become two faces of the same thought.   The children and I feed off each others' desire for enchantment and, in our own rough and ready way, we cultivate delight with true hearts and giddy minds.  I observe them from the corner of my eye endlessly drawing, colouring, cutting and see that their need to embellish the everyday humdrum mirrors my own. It's a time for giving and I have lost count of how many handmade cards Angélique has gifted her fellow classmates.  On complimenting Angélique's maternelle teacher on her impressive array of sparkly pullovers this week, she retorted that the short and often grey December days begged light in any shape or form, even in a handful of glitter.  She is right, of course, but in my mind the bleak weather makes little difference and, when the mornings are frosty and the late-rising sun bright, I watch the pinks, mauves and grey of the winter sky unfold behind the intricate shadow puppet trees and imagine frost-flowers, silently unfolding before me on the windowpanes.
I also love the day dawning in heavy freezing fog when the garden seems to float and everything turns to silver.  I'm almost disappointed when the swirling mists clear and daylight invades once more but I leave the Christmas tree's twinkling lights on and recall the colourful candles poised heavily on my childhood tree waiting to come alive with the strike of a match. The children and I are praying for snow.  We crave the peace and silence it grants.  I'm knitting a stole with a yarn named Snowbound in the hope that the températures will drop and our world will be white once more.  The yarn refects the exact grey of a heavy winter sky.
I have knit another hat; a second Rosewater by Tin Can Knits, this time with Madelinetosh's Sugar Plum colourway.  If many of us remain unsure of the original definition for 'sugar plum' it has with time crystallised into the definition of the excitement and childlike wonder of Christmas.  In the 1600s, as 'sugar plum' passed into general usage, it came to have its own assoiated meanings quite apart from fruit.  If your mouth was full of sugar plums, it meant that you spoke sweet, and possibly deceitful, words.  If you stuffed another's mouth with sugar plums, that meant a sop or bribe which served to shut someone up.  The Oxford English Dictionary also spells out that throughout the centuries 'plum' came to mean something desirable.  Surely, that is what this precious period of Advent spells out too?  Children's desire mingled with the hope of adults accompanied by a resounding refrain of 'Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men'.
All the pictures of Paris above are taken from our old and very beautiful neighbourhood; la Galérie Vivienne in central Paris.  The picture below, fellow knitters and teashop enthusiasts, is the one and only L'Oisive Thé, situated in the 13th arrondissement in Paris, which I finally set foot in for the first time fortnight ago.  Vibrant, cheery, stuffed with fabulous yarn, books and teas, suffice to say I have been dreaming of this street corner of inspiration ever since.  Aimée, the American/French owner holds the most amazing workshops on a regular basis.  I have watched, over on Instagram, with fascination the visits of designers Gudrun Johnston and Stephen West unfold and plan to be part of the fun in 2015.  Go take a look; it will bring a smile to your faces.
I have also included two hares - Miss Hyacinth and Edmund Elf - as there have been a lot of hares being created behind the scenes in preparation for Christmas.  My notes for my Sugar Plum hat may be found here.  Mickaël kept laughing at me whilst he took the pictures above as it appeared I was praying to the baubles.  I see his point!
I wonder what you are hoping for during this last week before Christmas?
A bientôt,

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Prelude To Winter

 The Hirschwald is an enchanted place on such an evening, when the mists lie low on the turf, and overhead the delicate, bare branches of the silver birches stand out clear against the soft sky, while the little moon looks down kindly on the damp November world.  Where the trees thicken into a wood, the fragrance of the wet earth and rotting leaves kicked up by the horses' hoofs fills my soul with delight.  I particularly love that smell, - it brings before me the entire benevolence of Nature, for ever working death and decay, so piteous in themselves, into the means of fresh life and glory, and sending up sweet odours as she works.

Elizabeth von Arnim, Elizabeth And Her German Garden (Virago Press: London, 1985), pp. 82-83 

This is a short post, dear friends, for this morning I am catching the train for Paris to spend time with my family and to visit for the first time the best tea and knitting shop in the capital; L'OisiveThé.  I have shared the above extract from Elizabeth von Arnim's first novel with you as I think it is important to remember, as autumn slips into winter and spring is too far away to comfort even by anticipation, that the decay which surrounds us is simply a necessary prelude to rebirth and greenery.  In winter enjoying nature can require more effort but it is important - for our sanity - to see things from a different perspective even if that may mean finding beauty in death.  Fortunately there are enchanted tales to spin during those long evenings and Christmas to prepare for! 

Before bowing graciously to the muted shades of winter with festive snatches of green and red I leave you with a few last glimpses of late autumn splendour caught on the final day of November beneath a giant ginko tree with dancing-skirt shaped leaves twirling gracefully to the yellow ground.
Angélique is wearing her new Tin Can Knits Prairie Fire short-sleeved pullover in the Madelinetosh colourway Molly Ringwald.

And I, below, am loving my Fairysteps Mary Jane shoes!

Warmest wishes to you all!  Let us all enjoy Advent as those December days slip away so quickly, wouldn't you agree?

Stephanie x

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Firebird

Ahh, that last picture above is just so true to form!

Dear friends,

Despite the fact that night has fallen I hear a blackbird singing in the bedraggled cherry tree outside my window with such virtuosity its song carries hope through the air.  Today is my birthday - forty six already - and one of the most precious gifts has been the dazzling sunlight glimmering through golden leaves from sunrise to sunset.  It is an odd sensation, as autumn lapses gently into winter, to realise that the huge molten giant overhead burns as brightly and yet, because of the slight tilt of the Earth, when its rays strike at a shallow angle its touch is less fiery.

I usually settle into this season with contentment; what choice do I have?  Being a homebird I start dreaming of book-lined shelves and crackling fires, and I am happy.  And then I leave our house - several times a day - and sigh in delight at the regal apparel the trees bear for just a few days more.  Each yellow leaf, twirling downwards turns to molten gold for a few seconds before sinking to the finite ground.

The other day I took Tristan and Angélique to the bookshop.  Whilst they sat, book in hand, my sharp eye glanced around the displays and shelves and in a few seconds I had found, and grabbed, a treasure: my favourite French Illustrator, Charlotte Gastaut's, latest book, L'Oiseau de Feu, hot off the press.  A talented Illustrator gifts the reader a series of stage designs; the magic of a theatre show without leaving one's home.  This version of Igor Stravinsky's work, written for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company, contains the ingredients of a fairy tale; an enchanted garden in which a tree bearing golden apples grows, a wicked sorcerer, a bevy of beautiful girls and a golden bird.  When I leaf through its pages I see bright ornaments, evergreen branches, a clash of colour with a touch of surrealism.  Charlotte Gastaut's distinctively Russian themed illustrations are as rich in colour as a cathedral's stained-glass windows and the découpage heightens the similarity with stage settings.

And today I wore for the first time my new handknitted hat; a beautiful, new pattern by Joji Locatelli fittingly named Lantern Lights.  I loved the idea of being crowned with tiny shining latterns to guide me through the chilly, dark evenings and that is why I picked a skein of Madelinetosh Merino DK in the glowing Candlewick colourway from my yarn stash.

My Raverly notes for my Firebird hat are here.

For those who would like to listen to Stravinsky's The Firebird I have had in my possession for a number of years now this version which I think is quite wonderful.

And, for all you music lovers out there I am sharing three of my birthday gifts today:

Carnets de Voyage by the violinist Nemanja Radulovic (here),
La Belle Excentrique by the Baroque singer Patricia Petibon (here),
 Rameau/Suites Livre III by the pianist Alexander Paley (here).

And now I must leave you as Mickaël and I are off out for the evening to celebrate this special day.  Thank you so much for all your kind and wonderful comments.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the fact you take the time and put so much thought into each one.

Happy weekend to you all!


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Puddle Duck

Puddle Duck.  It's a pretty sweet name, wouldn't you agree?  After last week's creamy rice pudding knitting experience (aka Worsted yarn knitting) I was hungry for more.  I happily chanced upon Melissa Schaschwary's latest pattern on Ravelry, Puddle Duck, and I was hooked.  And then I became rather excited at the thought of knitting it in white and yellow; the colours of Beatrix Potter's Jemima Puddle Duck.  These are simple pleasures, dear friends, and I do not know whether it was that particularly cheery shade of yellow or the style of this sweater but that happy feeling accompanied me during every stitch.  Melissa's pattern though simple nevertheless taught me a few new techniques; the Twisted German Cast On method and Elizabeth Zimmerman's Sewn Bind Off, for example.  I opted also for adding pockets which Angélique finds very handy indeed for storing her neverending collection of stones and leaves.   Finally, the yarn - Madelinetosh Vintage in the Butter colourway - was a joy to use.  I would best describe it as robust and hearty which just shows how sorely lacking I am in knitting terminology!
On Sunday we took the long, winding route (made longer still by a charming-looking elderly man, sporting an orange silk scarf, who was driving a tiny, vintage and bright green car at a very slow speed) to one of my favourite villages, Azay Le Rideau, where we visited its Renaissance château once more.  It is a jewel in the crown of the Loire Valley historical monuments, built between 1518 and 1524, and even the fact that the gardens were closed for renovation did not dampen our spirits.  It is, I am sure you will agree, a delight to observe the children's enthusiasm on such outings.  Tristan was especially thrilled by the beauty of his surroundings and almost cried with disappointment when we finally left.  Therefore I chose to include some of his pictures here to share with you. 
And what a delight it was to capture so many glimpses of yellow through the diamond panes.  I am not certain whether my current craving for all shades of yellow stems from the short-lived beauty of autumn leaves, like detached pieces of sunshine, or perhaps I am instead in search of glowing light as days dwindle with every passing week.  Last night I read Victoria Finlay's chapter, Yellow, in her rich and wonderful book, Colour, and fell upon these words:
"No colour has a neat unambiguous symbolism, but yellow gives some of the most mixed messages of all.  It is the colour of pulsating life - of corn and gold and angelic haloes - and it is also at the same time a colour of bile, and in its sulphurous incarnation it is the colour of the Devil.  In animal life, yellow - especially mixed with black - is a warning. [...]  In Asia yellow is the colour of power - the emperors of China were the only ones allowed to sport sunshine-coloured robes.  But it is also the colour of declining power.  A sallow complexion comes with sickness; the yellow of leaves in autumn not only symbolises their death, it indicates it."
Colour, (Hodder and Stoughton, London: 2002) p.  225.

So, how do you feel about the ambiguous colour yellow?  Which things do you associate with it?  I always think of bees, the crocus and daffodil and lemon tart, of course, and real farmer's eggs with bright yellow yolks.   And cats too, obviously!  For those of you who haven't spotted her on my Madame Millefeuilles pages both here and here I must introduce you to Miss Primrose Kitten below.  I was very nervous indeed about making her for a wonderful lady who breeds pedigree cats in England but I am glad to write that she has found favour with her future mistress.  I have, incidentally, given curious Primrose a tail since this picture was taken when she climbed the old stone wall to admire the lichen and could not get down again!
 Happy week friends!  May your autumn days be filled with golden light.

Stephanie x

ps   For information, I purposefully juxtaposed the two photographs of the rear view of Angélique and the cherub sculpture.  I simply could not resist!

ps My Ravelry notes for Puddle Duck may be found here.

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