Friday 10 April 2015

Random thoughts on a sunny April morning ...

Do you count your blessings? I must confess that I'm usually too busy to spend much time thinking about mine, let alone trying to marshall them all into an orderly numbered list. And I've been super busy this past week. I've had my family to stay and lots of good friends to catch up with, who don't have any language in common with the aforementioned family, which has led to a lot of simultaneous translating. I've had work to do, deadlines to meet and the most wonderful sunny afternoons that I've not always been able to make the most of. But, just for Nancy and Random 5, here are five of the things that I've been truly grateful for.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Fontevraud ... where medieval women called the shots ...

Now I have to confess to having been a fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine for a very long time, and it was this interest in Eleanor that drew me to the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, where she lived out the final years of her long and eventful life, and where, after her death in 1204, she was buried.

Monday 6 April 2015

Wild Asparagus tortilla ...

My dear friend Marian came over for supper the other night and look what she brought:

Don't they look pretty? Good enough to eat?

Friday 3 April 2015

And it's Friday again ... and Good Friday at that!

Happy Easter!

I'm going to have to keep this post short as I've got Mr B's family and my family all here for a Good Friday dinner together, and I've still got a heap of things to prepare.

We're at home in Spain, where the weather is simply divine: not too hot, but bright and sunny. I love it here at this time of the year. There are enough people around for Emi to have plenty of playmates his own age, but not too many people to fill the car parks or snaffle all the tables in the cafés and bars.

We had the best time just getting here. My parents came over from Ireland to join us for our mad dash through France with the Wonder Dog, and we spent a few days in the Loire Valley where we saw some super duper stuff. I've already written about the very wonderful Château de Chambord, and I've got to find the time to write some about some of the other places too. Maybe, if I could just manage to give up sleeping ... .

I really have to tell you about the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, founded in the twelfth century, where, thanks to the Marian Cult, the Sisters have been in charge from the very beginning. So tune in next week if you'd like to hear a little bit about Girl Power in the Middle Ages.

And then there's the very lovely Château de Cheverny with its amazing pack of hounds. Imagine a hundred hunting dogs all singing in chorus for their dinner ... lovely, so long as you're not a wild boar ... .

It was all fabulous, but being simple country folk at heart, my father and I spent many happy hours in the car discussing the sumptuous Charolais cattle of the Bourbonnais, the super-abundance of mistletoe, whether the French were ploughing their fields by computer (there were lots of super straight crop divisions without any drainage channels or fences to show where to stop) and the varieties of early flowering shrubs along the road-side. Mr B, who's a bit of a city-slicker (born and bred in Barcelona), found our down-to-earth interests unfathomable. Why are you interested in that?

It's an interesting experience being locked up in a confined space with a group of people for several days. I guess it either makes or breaks relationships, but in our case we emerged happily at the other end, all of us still on speaking terms with one another.

Anyway I'd better get going with 5 random things, otherwise Nancy will throw me out of Random 5. Let me show you 5 random aspects of the very wonderful Cathedral of Saint Gatien in Tours. Given that it's Easter it seems kind of on-theme to take a walk around a great Gothic cathedral.

Isn't it a beauty? Sorry about the rain. It would have looked even better against a beautiful blue sky. I'll have to see if I can do better with the weather next time.

There's been a cathedral here since the fourth century, but it's been burnt a few times over the course of its history. On one occasion it was torched by our own Henry II, husband to my great heroine, Eleanor of Aquitaine. The present structure is mostly twelfth century with modifications and add-ons that carried on up until 1547.

The flying buttresses are outstanding, and the forest of gargoyles looking down from the eaves would surely have been enough to put the chills on all but the most courageous of medieval spirits.

And here's what it looks like inside: 

That's little Emi, who's been abandoned to shuffle down the aisle on his own as all the adults gasped and shot off in various directions to investigate what caught their various fancies. Poor lamb: he's used to it!

Inside there's a great rose window from the XIII century dedicated to the Virgin, the Holy Rose of Heaven

And another beautiful one, also from the XIII century, showing the Nativity. 

I love stained glass windows. The colours are just so brilliant and intense. I can't begin to imagine the awe that they must have inspired way back in the thirteenth century among the ordinary folk of the area whose lives would have been hard and lacking in either colour or decoration. They must have served to reinforce, with their vivid details, the stories from the Bible that all too many of them weren't able to read for themselves. 

And, at the risk of being accused of not being able to count, let me show you one of the medieval shop fronts that's been preserved in the streets running away from the cathedral.

It's wonderful that it houses an antiquarian book shop with a coffee shop next door: a sublime coupling of interests!

And I simply have to show you two other lovely shops that we stumbled past in the rain. First we have the shop where they make and sell violins: 

Can you see Mr B and me? Our reflections are staring back at you. I'm the short one with the camera.

And then we have a sweet flower shop that was bursting with cheerful spring colour:

And now I really must dash, otherwise we're going to go hungry and my relatives are all going to be very unimpressed with me.

Wishing you blessings and happiness, sunshine and chocolates whatever you believe in,

Bonny x

Thursday 2 April 2015

Never need to buy shorts again ...

My Emi is a terror with his trousers. They're always worn out before they're outgrown. And the real disaster zone is the knees. The other bits are mostly fine, but the knees, especially the left knee areas, are always shredded. It's the same with his grey school trousers and the eye-wateringly expensive high-tech tracksuit bottoms that he wears for games.

Now if there's one thing I hate it's having to throw something out before I've had my money's worth, and this business with the trousers has been leaving me feeling very short-changed for quite a while. Even the charity shops didn't want his trousers after he'd done with them. They were much too polite to say so, but I'm sure the trousers with the shredded knees all ended up in the big van that comes round every week for the stuff that can't be sold.

Happily I've hit upon a way of making them last another season.

We go from this:

To this: 

Happy days! In fact I've just been to work on a batch of 6 pairs of last year's jeans, all suffering from serious trauma to the knee area, and I think I've sorted him out with as many pairs of shorts for summer as he's likely to need. The ex-trousers were all a bit on the short side, but, once they're transformed into a pair of shorts, that length issue becomes much less critical. And, as old Skinny Malinky is a total bean pole, they're all fine and dandy around the waist. 

When I'm messing around with denim the first critical thing that I'm conscious of getting right is the colour of the thread that I use for the turn-ups: it has to be a heavy-weight thread that matches the thread colour on the top side seams of the rest of the garment. If I'm short of thread I can usually get away with a different colour in the bobbin for the underside stitches, provided that my sewing tension is just right and my stitches are knotting invisibly as they're supposed to do in the middle of the cloth sandwich that will be the turn-up. 

And the next thing I need is a heavy duty needle for my sewing machine.  Have you ever noticed how the inner leg and outer leg seams on denim jeans are always different? The outer seam is always an open seam ironed back flat, whereas the inner leg seam is closed with the two edges overlocked, and it provides a cloth-sandwich on the turn up that's just about the thickest thing most domestic sewing machines will ever have to sew across. 

I use a US size 16/ European size 100 needle, which is just about as heavy a needle as my little domestic machine is comfortable with. 

Having collected together all the tools and thread, I turn the  jeans inside out, and mark the length for cutting off the lower part of the leg. With Emi's jeans I have a wonderful consistency in that his left knee is alway torn exactly 43cm down from the waistband giving his shorts an inside leg cut-off at 23 cm, so I simply cut to that, which works fine length-wise with a 4cm rolled seam around the bottom.

I measure down on the inside leg, and marked where the cut-off should be using a tailor's pen with wash-away ink.

Making sure that my line is straight across the leg, I cut away the damaged lower legs of the jeans. 

The next thing to do is to turn the cut edge over on itself to form a rolled seam and pin it in position, making sure that it's even all the way round. 

Now I add a row of tacking stitches in an easy-to-spot-coloured thread to hold everything in place whilst I sew.

As I mentioned I'd saved up a big batch of worn-out jeans, which I was able to process as a job lot. I cut them, pinned them and tacked them all together before I got my machine out.

I used the cut-offs to make sure that I'd got all my tensions right before I started sewing on the hems of the shorts. Then using the hem-lines of the bed of my machine as guides to keep me straight I sew the rolled hem in place. I've also got a magnetic hem guide that I can secure to the bed of my machine to physically guide the material through correctly, but I'm usually too impatient to use it. 

When they're all sewn up I press the seams out nice and flat with a hot iron. 

And Ta Dah! Here they are, Emi's spring/ summer 2015 shorts collection:

I could pretty them up with some little patches, but as I'm a bit short of time I've left that for another day. I'm tempted to have a go at some machine-embroidery using the cut-offs to make decorative patches. I'll keep you posted if I make anything worth talking about. 

And, whilst I can't pretend that any of this is going to win me a place in the Great British Sewing Bee, I can't hide the fact that I feel pretty good about taking something that was destined for landfill and turning it something really useful. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on A Focused Journey