Toadstools and cottages

It's been a while, and life quietly ticks over. Nothing much happens and then it's winter workshop season. I held my first local standalone session last month in Shrewsbury at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. I had booked the modest little garden room, but due to circumstances, I was upgraded to this lovely space. It was my first workshop since the summer, but the old routine kicked in as soon as I begin setting up.

The Reserve used to be part of the old Abbey and has been well restored. There is a beautiful modern stained glass window with little etched birds and animals hiding in the undergrowth. 

Everyone arrived safely and were soon at work. 

This is my favourite workshop subject to teach and a particularly enjoyable group to work with. A couple of weeks later there was an impromptu workshop held at Ferndell Bed and Breakfast again, which booked out within a few days. This time the project was a Christmas Cottage. 

As usual, there was a lovely home made lunch, with Prosecco (though sadly not for me, as I was teaching). The wood burner was kept going all day.

And later, afternoon tea with home made brownies and cream.

So two workshops down and the biggest one to follow. Which, unlike these, didn't exactly go to plan...


Polar bear bauble

This is the little polar bear bear bauble I'll be teaching at a workshop at the lovely premises of Guthrie and Ghani, in Birmingham. 

It was the third design I tried; initially I attempted needle felting a polar bear Santa around a polystyrene ball, which I've always thought was a nasty idea and found it to be so. You may ask why then I decided to try it; because making an accurate sphere is harder than it looks, and I thought it may be an easier solution for anyone who was just starting out. The wool floated around on the surface, the head barely stuck to the wool (or the polystyrene) and although it was neat, I wasn't comfortable with that way of working.

I then ploughed my way through most of an elf fox, before realising, many hours later, that it was far too ambitious, even for an all day project.  

It's quite hard to design an appealing project, that is a bit different to everything else on offer, but which can be theoretically made in a five-six hour period by people of all abilities.

But in the end, I settled on this fairly simple little bear; there are five places left on the workshop, which runs from 10.30 until 4.30 on December 10th. You can book directly from the Guthrie and Ghani website here.

If you'd like to see the fabulous studio space and my last workshop there, please see this blogpost from November last year.


A tale of three menus


Rummaging around in a box the other day, I came across these old menus. They are programmes for three Masonic dinners and they tell an interesting tale

The earliest programme is dated July 1902. It is beautifully printed with blind embossing, a satin ribbon and an insert. The menu, by today's standards, is breath takingly sumptuous,  worthy of 'Downton Abbey' at its finest, but not really surprising, as this dinner was held just a year after the death of Queen Victoria and the Victorians did love their food.

The starters consist of mayonnaise of salmon, fillets of sole and lobster salad. The main courses offer a choice of galantine of veal, roast chickens, hams, tongues, galantines of chicken, small aspics (various), pigeon pies, dressed beef, veal and ham pies, roast lamb, veal and ham patties, salads, peas and potatoes. Moving on to the third course, we have wine jellies, fruit jellies, chocolate eclairs, charlotte russe, strawberry creams, vanilla creams and fancy pastry. If that wasn't enough, there were the usual cheese, butter and biscuits and finally a rather anonymous 'dessert'. Just in case one hadn't consumed enough chocolate eclairs.

After the many toasts, one could settle down to the after dinner entertainment, which was very much of the parlour singing kind, consisting of eight songs with accompaniment, by the Cecilia Quartette and others.  As well as the national anthem and a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera (I think it is the Mikado), we have 'Keys of Heaven' 'The Country Dance' and appropriately, 'Good night Beloved'. I imagine that after the weight of the table offerings earlier, a few people might have quietly nodded off during the recital.

Moving on to November 1934 - post WW1 and pre WW2 - the programme is another work of art with more blind embossing, gold ink, silver ribbon and an insert. The menu however, is a little more restrained. There are general hor d'oeuvres, soups - mock turtle and consomme - a fish course of halibut and mornay (which is a white cheese sauce and spelt 'Morny on this menu), then braised sweetbreads with mushrooms, roast pheasant, game chips and seasonal vegetables. Finally there is ice pudding, charlotte russe, cheese straws, celery, another anonymous dessert, coffee and cream. 

After the toasts, the entertainment seems to have been provided by selected 'brothers' - one at the piano and the other three presumably singing.

So we move on the final programme, dating from December 1948. This is a much humbler event. The programme is simply printed on one sheet of card and the menu is in keeping with the rationing that  was still going on in Britain, though I suspect that it was quite a feast compared to most people's living standards. 

Sparse by comparison to the previous menus, 1948 offered vegetable soup, roast guinea fowl, bread sauce, sausages,  roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, finished off with fruit salad, ice cream, and coffee.

After a modest amount of toasting, the after dinner entertainment was very much of its time; dancing to Fred Parry and his orchestra. How times had changed.


Little toadstools

It probably says something about the state of our 'lawn' that we have a sprouting of small toadstools this year. They are of the 'small beige' variety, and despite knowing my general toadstools and fungi, I find these to be the most difficult to identify. Suffice to say I shall not be eating them.

I've been creating my own, more colourful toadstools. 


They too are unidentifiable, being made up as I go along, but they are loosely based on typical shapes and forms.

I've made a lot of toadstools in my time, and they used to be quite jolly, almost cartoon-like, such as these, from several years ago.

This year I found myself experimenting more with using more neutral colours and layering tiny amounts of fibres to create a more organic, natural effect.

It is a little like painting with wool, using the tip of the needle to tease the wool into creating light and dark areas and giving a hint of the gills without getting too forensic. After nearly ten years of needle felting, I am still learning new and interesting things. 



Autumn allsorts

So life potters on here at the cottage, as autumn creeps in. We have had a visitor to the trough, a small toad who obliges us by popping his head up from time to time. Sometimes he gets bath bombed by the sparrows who like to splash about.

I continue to struggle with my long term depression and anxiety. I am still suffering fall out from losing Andy, which continually finds new ways to haunt me. I constantly worry about our ongoing financial situation (while Joe has part time work, I seem to be singularly incapable of earning a living, even at the things I am supposed to be good at). It saps my strength and my silly body is getting a bit older and less useful. So I have good days, bad days and sometimes terrible days when I shut myself off from the world. But I keep as busy as my energy levels will allow and remind myself that my little battles are nothing compared to terrible global events and things could be  (and have been)  a lot worse. Part of the problem with depression is that it's not really the done thing to talk about it and we really should - it is an invisible disease. So I am mentioning it here, holding my hand up and wearing the badge, as it were.

But on to good things - there have been the small pleasures of various crops from the garden. 

And an article published in British Fibre Art magazine. They are, I think, the first UK magazine to dedicate a whole issue to needle felting. Sadly, the entire print run has sold out, but here are some snippets of my feature. 

One of my latest miniature heads, a bit of a one off - 'Sandra' - who reminds me of a 1960s secretary for some reason. 

As it's the season for the inevitable toadstools, I have put together some wool bundles, in suitable colours, which can be bought in my shop here

And finally, I have two last workshops this year, one scheduled to be held at Guthrie and Ghani, in Birmingham, on October the 7th -  dependent on places being booked. And a local workshop in Shrewsbury, on November 16th, which has two places left. Details on my website on the workshops page.