Monday, 31 December 2012


The weather has been so awful over Christmas that we have not been able to go for any walks.  We have had one trip out, though.  We went to Heartlands, which is a new heritage centre at Pool near Redruth.  It was established because Cornish tin mining has World Heritage status which brought funding with it.  At the moment it is a slightly strange place and I gather this is because the original 'vision' was of a new town with lots of housing surrounding a heritage centre.  Of course, when the housing market collapsed the developers lost interest and the result is that there is a large site with acres of space but not much on it.

Good use has been made of the existing buildings and there is an interesting museum inside but you do need to have an interest in tin mining, or at least mining in general, to appreciate it.  It is a great place for children as there are plenty of activities for them and on the day we went, which was of course very wet, there were a lot of families keeping out of the rain.

I did not like to take photos inside although there was nothing to say you couldn't.  The cafe is situated in the former timber shed with the tables divided by large lathes and other pieces of machinery.  This photo is of the boiler for the electric compressor house which was built in 1909 and operated from 1909 until the 1970s.  I also found one or two interesting details but I really think this is a place to take a sketchbook rather than a camera.

This is rust on the boiler above and the one below is the side of a mine chimney that still stands in the middle of the site.

There are also a number of what I suppose you call units.  The idea is that they should be occupied by artists so we were a bit surprised to find that one of them is the Camborne Registry office!  Only about half of them are currently occupied but one person has their marketing well worked out.

Heartlands is situated in a large area of mining history.  I thought I had written about the Great Flat Lode trail when we walked there a couple of years ago but I could not find a posting.  However, I have found my file of photos and think I will do a separate post on that as it is a very interesting area.  I was glad I had been there when I was studying the diagrams of mine shafts in the Heartlands museum.

So is a trip to Heartlands worth it?  Yes, if you are interested in mining or are trying to entertain young children.  There is a great adventure playground and we reckon that the place will look much more 'lived-in' when the tree has grown up.  If you are holidaying in Cornwall and it rains there is not much to do that is indoors so this could be a good choice.  And it is very accessible from the A30.

Crane scissors

I was given a pair of Crane scissors for Christmas.

This set me thinking about their origins.  As the crane is a symbolic bird in northern and eastern Europe I wonder if there is some connection there.  I tried Googling and found several sites selling antique versions, some of which were in places like Germany.  But neither Google nor Wikipaedia had anything on their history.  So if any reader out there knows, put a comment on this posting.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas greetings

This blog may have been a bit sparse this year but Happy Christmas.  I hope to get back into gear in the New Year but in the meantime here are a couple of Christmassy things.

Christmas past.

Everyone has mementoes of past Christmases and this one goes back to my early childhood.  My parents bought this wooden Father Christmas from a refugee wood turner in Havelock North in about 1950.  I well remember going to his shop and choosing it.  My parents brought it to England in 1974 and passed it on to me because I am the eldest.  They bought two similar ornaments for my sisters.  It comes out every year and sits on the sideboard but goes on the table when we eat Christmas Dinner.

In the past I have made Christmas hangings and a set of Christmas tablemats which this year I decided have come to the end of their natural life.  I see from the label on the back of this hanging that I made it in 1997.  It is foundation pieced and I remember the pattern came from Australian Patchwork and Quilting magazine.  I have another one of two cats, done in Christmas colours but could not find anywhere to photograph it. It is about the same age.

Christmas Present

We are having a very quiet Christmas this year.  As you may have read, Cornwall has been badly affected by the floods and this area has not escaped.  Although we live in a built-up area, we are at the bottom of a slope (Reens is Cornish for 'slope') and in a valley, complete with a stream which runs down behind the row of cottages opposite us.  In the late November floods, this stream burst its banks and ran down the road narrowly missing our gate.  Two of the cottages and the fish and chip shop at the other end of the block had water inside.  Last Friday there was a repeat performance although people were better prepared this time.
Here is the stream that caused all the trouble.  It rises on the moors a mile or two away, runs down a valley into the village and then through this bed behind the houses.

It looks quite innocuous here but it can be very noisy when it is in full flow and when it rains for hours non-stop it diverts itself from this route and runs down the street instead.  As the road is normally very parked up and there is quite a bit of debris, the water is dammed up by the cars and then gets into the front of the cottages.  The owners have a variety of sandbags, some more effective than others.  This morning I thought I should photograph the sandbags and the gates as they make quite an interesting sight.  So here is a selection.

This one has been very carefully constructed although I believe you are supposed to build the wall like a brick wall so that the water can't get through the cracks.

Not very substantial but the Council no longer provides the sandbags so it is difficult to get them if you are old or infirm.

It has also been very bad at the far end of our lane.  Yesterday I walked down to see what it was like and found the people there had built a wall of sandbags to divert the stream away from a terrace of newly converted cottages.  Unfortunately I did not have my camera with me and did not think to take a photo on my phone.  None of us have ever seen anything like this down here before so it may be an interesting Christmas.  I hope yours is a bit drier.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Childhood sweets

I have just been reading the Twelve by Twelve blog.  The theme of their latest challenge was 'sweet' and this prompted Brenda Gael Smith to write Sweet Memories about sweets in her New Zealand childhood.  When she asked her readers what they remembered, my memories included many that were similar to hers because I also grew up in New Zealand although I am somewhat older.  A second thing that tempted me to write on this topic was that on Saturday I went to a Christmas Open Studio where I bought as a present a dish and spoon from Samme Charlesworth who is a local ceramicist.

The dish is made of five separate pieces, each like a shell.  The underside looks like this.

It is crying out to be given with some sweets in it and then the whole thing wrapped in coloured cellophane.  Of course in this part of the world I could simply buy some Cornish fudge but the idea of making sweets quite appeals.  So what shall I make?

Sweets were forbidden in my family when I was small and as we did not get pocket money we could not go out and buy our own.  At the same time, I do not remember New Zealand having sweet rationing in the way that the UK did.  Sweets were very much part of the culture and home made ones seemed to be in a slightly different category from the ones you bought in shops.  It may have been something to do with the Celtic heritage as I know this is the basis of the extensive New Zealand repertoire of cakes and biscuits, many of which can be traced back to Scotland.

So what are my childhood memories of sweets?  Bazaars, bring and buys and other fairs happened all the time and there was always a sweet stall.  These sold delicious things such as fudge, toffee, coconut ice, hokey pokey and peppermint creams.  They were sold in small handmade boxes made from coloured card (I did know how to make these once and am asking myself if I can still remember how to do it) complete with a handle that was stapled on.  Girls, and possibly some boys, learnt to make sweets from about the age of eight and it was a popular activity when you went to play with someone.  My forte was peppermint creams.  Very easy as they did not require cooking.  My sister made coconut ice and we both made a lot of hokey pokey with the exciting volcanic effect when you added the baking soda.  Both my parents were very partial to that.  A bit later I mastered fudge but I shied away from toffee because it was so tricky getting the setting point.  At school 'sweet stalls' were a major form of fund-raising.  A year group or a House would have a stall to raise money for charity.  Of course all this was very bad for our teeth and we have the dentists' bills to prove it.

But we did get some manufactured sweets.  We were allowed them at the pictures or theatre and when travelling.  Adults gave them to us and I remember Quality Street toffees and a lot of mint flavoured things.  Barley sugar is the first sweet I remember but I was given it after pills that I was allergic to and in a very Pavlovian form of conditioning I grew to hate it and have never eaten it since.   My grandmothers were of the generation that ate a lot of sweets, or maybe it was just because they were older.  They both usually had a packet of Minties or Humbugs or liquorice allsorts around and one of them was very fond of fruit pastilles.  Like Brenda Gael we knew what we didn't like: anything aniseed flavoured such as the liquorice allsort that was covered in hundreds and thousands just got spat out in our household.  My maternal grandparents used to treat themselves to a very small peppermint filled chocolate bar a bit like an After eight but bigger, each Saturday evening while my grandfather read 'The Sports Post' and they listened to the radio.   (TV only reached New Zealand when I was fifteen.)  When I went to stay with them the chocolate was very carefully cut so that it went round three people rather than two.

Another feature of New Zealand at that time was the lolly scramble.  I well remember this at my father's office family picnic.  Handfuls of boiled sweets, the sort that came wrapped in cellophane, would be thrown into a crowd of children who were on an area of lawn or grass and you fought to get them.  The smaller you were and the more politely brought up, the less likely you were to be successful!  I guess it was good training for rugby scrums.

As we got older we seemed to be able to have sweets but I think perhaps it was thought not so bad once you had your adult teeth.  I remember 'cigarettes' made of some tasteless sugar, toadstools with tops that were dipped in coconut and stalks of a different colour, liquorice straps, favours with writing on them and many of the things that Brenda Gael mentions.  I also agree with her about 'foreign' sweets.  A lot of the sweets mentioned in children's books were completely unknown in our part of the world.  I don't remember any American ones apart from bubble gum and I was a student before I got 'into' Mars bars and Bountie bars.  By that time I was in control of my own purse and these were popular items to add to our packed lunches in the student canteen.  The problem with so many of these sweets is that if you try to eat them as an adult they taste disgusting.

And finally, we had a special family story about the power of toffee.  My maternal grandmother seems to have spent the First World War baking fruit cakes and making Russian toffee to send to her brothers and fiancĂ© who were fighting in France.  The story goes that one of my grandmother's brothers survived a direct hit on his trench because he had just put a piece of her toffee in his mouth.  I assume it deflected the shock waves.  I think the story is probably true, not least because this brother was invalided home with shell shock.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gluten free panettone

There is one item of Christmas food  that I have really missed since I went onto a gluten free diet and that is panettone.  I first ate panettone when I was living in Italy in 1970.  It started to appear around the beginning of Advent and was popular at all times of the day.  It became particularly significant for me because that Christmas it was only thing the Australian friend I was with and I had in the way of Christmas food.  We had a 'great adventure' travelling from Turin to Rome in a Fiat cinquecento with no heating and a radiator that kept boiling.  We went through the Appenines in the dark in a blizzard, not on the autoroutes (to save toll charges as we were all broke) and this year on my holiday I was eagerly trying to see if I could recognise any of the places we passed through.  I didn't, which is hardly surprising but after forty years I did sort out the geography.  In 1970 we finally arrived in Rome at 2 am on Christmas morning and ended up in a pensione near the station.  Next day we woke up at lunchtime and set off to find something to eat.  What we did not realise was that in Italy everyone ate on Christmas Eve and by the afternoon of 25th December this part of Christmas was over (the second part is Epiphany) and all the restaurants were closed.  So we went back to the pensione and ate the panettone one of my students had given me as a Christmas present.  We did not have a knife so we cut it with a stainless steel tailcomb. (Those were the days of much back-combing).

Cutting the panettone with a stainless steel tailcomb became a family tradition which we kept up for a long time but in the end there were no tailcombs around and we started to cut it normally.

Gluten free Christmas baking is not difficult: cake, mince pies and pudding are easy but panettone is much more of a problem so I just had to give it up.  However, this year I am determined to have it.  Thanks to the internet I found several recipes.  In the end I opted for one by an American but like most recipes it assumed you had a stand food mixer e.g. a Kenwood Chef, in which to make it.  I have only ever owned a food processor so it began to look as though I would have to have a Kenwood Chef as a Christmas present.  Just one problem: we have no bench space left for one or space to store the attachments.  So I looked in my Magimix cookbook and it claimed you could make bread although obviously it does not have a variable speed motor which means you cannot beat the dough/batter for ten minutes as recommended in the recipe I used.

Today was the day to do a trial run.  I decided that if it did not work, it did not work.  Gluten free bread will not rise much and you have to add eggs to it to make it stick together.  This recipe is really heavy on the eggs as it has four plus a yolk.  You end up with a sort of batter which you then put straight in the tin and leave for an hour to see what happens!

It did rise a bit but I forgot to take a photo before it went in the oven.  It also cooked perfectly so I think I can say it was a success.

It is a bit more cakey in texture than the ones you buy in the supermarket and I am a bit concerned that as there are only two of us, we will not be able to eat it all up quickly enough.  However, I then remembered that panetone bread and butter pudding is quite a trendy dish.

Now I need to try making bread in the Magimix.  The bread I have been buying for the last two years is now only available sliced.  The slices are very thin and collapse if you try to use them for toasted sandwiches or if you freeze the bread.   My husband is a keen bread maker but gave up when I went gluten free as it is hardly worth making bread for one person.  Obviously making bread this way is not the same as traditionally kneading it but I intend to have a go using the recipe on the back of the Doves' flour packet.  It would mean that I can have unsliced bread which I much prefer.


Like a number of other people in the Contemporary Quilt group, I am making bookwraps for the tombola at next year's Festival of Quilts.  I have made quite a few book covers in the past but I began this project by thinking that it would be good to have something I could make by hand while I was on holiday.  So I put together two small collages that could be Kanta stitched and took them to Italy.  Of course I had no time to work on them then but I have now finished them.  They are both supposed to be A6 size which is about as small as you can go.  The first one is fine.

However, I have a problem with the second one.  I decided to give it a binding rather than satin-stitching it, and lo and behold when I had finished it I could not fit the book in it because of where the seams are!

A pity as it looks quite nice otherwise.  I will have to see if I can find anything really tiny to go in it.  As everything I make will have to be posted I am generally not planning to include books in mine because of the postage.

I am now a bit bored with Kanta stitching so, like Margaret Ramsay lI have dug out various leftovers from previous projects and propose to use them as the basis of the next few.  Like most quilters I was taught early on never to throw anything away but there comes a point at which stuff needs to be used.  So far I have found:

Some pieces of dyed and/or printed fabric.  Most of these will have to have strips added to them.

Two pieces I made when teaching myself to use a soldering iron.

I had a nice time stitching these and added beads to the second one.  I fear they may be a bit too 'raised' for book covers but I will see.  Then I found a plastic envelope with  left over embellishments.

Some of these were made on workshops I did with Jenny Rolfe who also taught me to make book covers.  There is more than one way of doing book covers and I intend to use both Jenny's method and the method being promoted for the tombola project.  http:

I know I have various other leftovers: blocks, a couple of Mola blocks that did not work etc. etc. so I have plenty to keep me going.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Visit to Totnes

Last Friday I went to Totnes in Devon to see the exhibition by South West Textile Group. This is a group of professional textile artists living and practising in the west of England.  They represent a wide range of textile art including felt, embroidery, weaving and quilting.  The only person I knew with work in the exhibition was Alicia Merrett. I particularly enjoyed seeing how she used fabric by Heidi Stoll Weber /which I know she buys rather than dyeing her own.

I had completely forgotten that now my sister lives in Totnes it is quite simple to jump on a train and go there for the day.  We will draw a veil over the return journey when the train ran very late, apart from saying that I was fine as I had a fiendishly difficult map jigsaw puzzle on my iPad that kept me totally absorbed.  It was mostly the Pacific Ocean with tiny islands and the coast of Chile but when I got to the end I found there was a piece missing so it did not give me a gold cup for completing it!  My husband thinks it is hilarious that an electronic jigsaw should have a piece missing but I did hunt everywhere for it and even went back the next day to see where it had left me.  It appeared to be telling me that I had finished it.

I did not dare take any photos at the exhibition because of copyright issues but I am sure it will soon appear on the group's website. The theme was Colours of the Rainbow so lots of bright colours but I was really inspired by some of the pieces.  It was also interesting to see people using different fabrics and textures.  A couple of people had dyed African braid.  I first saw this braid in an exhibition at the Festival of Quilts a couple of years ago and bought some which I am about to use.  I have had to hide it from the cats because it smells - I seem to remember that it was cured in urine.  Mine is in 'natural dye' colours but I think these artists had bought white and then dyed it.  I had a catalogue but can no longer find it.  I also liked the way in which some exhibits were made up of small pieces that were then grouped in different ways.  Lots of ideas there for those of us who prefer to work small.

Totnes is a great town with lots of things going on. We went up to Dartington Hall  and had lunch in the bar.  Although I had been to the Dartington shopping village I had never been to the Hall.  It has wonderful gardens which we did not go round because it was a very gloomy day but I appreciated seeing the remains of the autumn colours.

I liked the white stems in this one - I think they would make good stitching lines.

We do not really get autumn down here because everything is so windblown.

I also  did not realise that there is a famous modernist house on the Dartington campus.  High Cross House  was built in the 1930s for the headmaster of Dartington Trust school and it has now been taken over by the National Trust.  For those of us who grew up with modernist architecture and furnishings it is wonderful.  My sister says they studied it when she was in architecture school..  In the house there was an exhibition of paintings by a Devon painter I had never heard of: Martin Procter  The paintings really fitted into the architecture but they also were quite inspiring for textile people.  I came home and Googled him and found all the paintings were on his website.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Santons and Paper Mache dolls

While I had my late summer holiday in Italy my sister and her husband had theirs (complete with their labrador) in the South of France. The destinations for both this holiday and their holiday last September were chosen so that they could retrace the journey our father made in 1945.  He was a radar technician in the New Zealand Air Force who arrived in England in the autumn of 1944 and after spending the bitterly cold winter of 1944/45 here, found himself attached to an RAF unit sent to Europe to dismantle Nazi radar stations.  We have the letters that he sent back to his parents and it is these that have formed the basis of my sister's holidays.

The unit left Norfolk at the end of April 1945 and the family story goes that someone chased the lorry down the drive from the base waving the telegram to announce that I had been born.  There is then a gap in the letters (most annoying) although we do know from later ones that he spent VE day in Mons.  I never knew this when, driving to Luxembourg one year, my husband mis-directed me and I ended up driving right round the main square, cobbles and all!  After spending some weeks in the Taunus mountains near Frankfurt, (scene of last year's holiday) the unit moved to Languedoc.  While he was there my father decided he wanted to buy a present for his baby daughter.  He came home with a doll which he bought in Mende in the upper Lot valley.

For a child it was a strange doll and I never really played with it.  Although it is jointed at the shoulders and groin, it does not really bend.  It is made of paper mache and is obviously very old.  I know it is paper mache because I had a terrible accident and trod on it, causing a deep cut in the right cheek which revealed the paper mache.  You can just see the scar in this photo.

 It has real hair and is fully dressed with petticoat, heavy lace camisole and cotton knickers under the clothes you see here.  There are lovely shoes with straw soles.  I suspect a textile historian could date it roughly from the clothes.  It originally also had a headscarf to match the apron but this disappeared at some point.

My father, whose French was appalling, used to say that the person who sold it to him had said something that he took to be either 'Saint Anne' or 'cent ans'.  He also said that there had been a companion man doll and that the shopkeeper had tried very hard to sell him both.  My father refused, probably because he could not afford it.  For many years that is all we knew about its origins but some time after the horrible accident, I was telling some colleagues and one who had lived in Switzerland, told me that it was almost certainly a 'santon': a figure from a crib scene in a church.  So I decided that was probably the case as by late 1945 people in that part of France would have had nothing left and were probably selling off anything that could move to the occupying forces.  I looked into getting it repaired but gave up in the end.

And that was that until my sister decided to visit the area and said she would look into its origins further.  Interestingly this has shown that it is almost certainly not a santon.  Now we know that there are two museums with collections of these dolls: Marseilles and a very small museum in  Les Baux de Provence.  The museum does not appear to have a website.  This is apparently a very beautiful small Provencal town.   My sister and her husband went to this museum and learnt that santons are generally made from clay and are also smaller than my doll.  I was fascinated by the history of the dolls which seem to have made their way from Spain via Italy to Provence.  The church in Monetfiascone where I have just stayed had a large modern village scene with dolls and I remember that when I went to Rome at Christmas 1970 many of the churches had intricate crib scenes and there were queues of people waiting to visit them.  My sister and her husband bought themselves a modern santon as a souvenir.  They are not cheap!

Last week we decided my doll is just that, a doll, so I did a bit of Googling and came up with a very interesting article.  The article specifically mentions paper mache dolls designed for churches so I now think that is what I have.  My sister tells me that the santon tradition included dolls representing various occupations including an old couple who stand for fidelity, longevity etc.  So I think that probably answers the question.  But if there is anyone out there with more information we would love to hear from you.  Just put a comment on the the blog and I will follow it up.  If you are interested in the history of dolls you will also enjoy the Museum of Dolls in Paris. but do note that at least part of it is closing for redevelopment next January.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Alto Lazio: Gardens 2

After our visit to Vignanello we moved on to Bomarzo where we went for a walk in the Sacro Bosco.  It was rather gloomy when we got there but it did not actually rain.  This was just as well as we finished with a picnic lunch.  The design of the Sacro Bosco is attributed to Pirro Ligori and the sculpures to Simone Moschino.  It was commissioned by Pier Francesco Orsini in memory of his wife, Guilia Farnese.  The garden reminded me of Stowe Landscape gardens in Buckinghamshire as its main feature was a lot of sculptures and a folly or two.  There is no real planning to the garden, just the statues spread around a wooded area on a steep hill so, needless to say, there were a lot of steep steps.  I think the gloom added to the atmosphere.

First up was this enormous statue of Good v Evil  which is situated at the bottom of the valley.  Nearby is this:

and no, it has not been tilted by an earthquake but is deliberately constructed at an angle.

As we climbed up the garden we came on several animal sculptures including Hannibal's elephants

and a lovely dog,

Probably the most famous sculpture is this one of Orcus.  Orcus was an Etruscan god who represents the 'wild man'.  The wild man features in many European festivals and folklore and is closely related to the Green Man that we often see represented in England.

I think a knowledge of mythology (which I don't have) helps when visiting this place.

The next garden was the Villa Lante in Bagnaia, near Viterbo.  This is a classical garden, again built on the side of a steep hill with lovely views overlooking the valley below.

As you can just see from the photo the bottom of the garden has a formal hedged garden.  The most important feature of this garden is a series of fountains and the water that feeds them which runs down the hillside.

This fountain depicts lanterns.  At the bottom there are two fountains with magnificent sculptures.

To the English eye, these gardens seem devoid of colour because there are almost no flowers, just a variety of trees.  On the final day we visited the Villa Farnese but I have no photos of this garden.  I have to admit that while I enjoy these gardens I really prefer architecture so the days we spent in towns with their churches and cathedrals were the highlight of the holiday for me.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Alto Lazio: Gardens 1

This holiday was billed as featuring gardens.  What the brochure didn't say (and there was no reason why it should have) is that all/most Italian formal gardens are built on hillsides and feature lots of terraces and steps. These proved to be a real problem for me - and for a couple of other people.  After falling up a step at one (I cannot do very steep steps any more) I felt it was safer to opt out of some parts of the later gardens. This means my photos are a bit restricted but if you go to the websites of the places you can see much better ones!

One feature of gardens in this part of Italy is citrus fruit.  These lemons were in garden of the Palazzo del Principe del Drago in Bolsena where there were also lovely pomegranates.  Of course all the fruit was on the trees at this time of the year.

The next garden we visited was the Castello Ruspoli at Vignanello.  It has a wonderful formal garden with hedges and examples of every kind of citrus fruit imaginable set in large pots at the corners of the beds.

As you can just make out in this picture there is a fountain at the centre

Beyond the formal garden is a lawned area much more reminiscent of English classical gardens.

This part of the garden runs right along the top of the escarpment.  However, to the right, there is a lower level garden, set out to look like a pack of cards.  You can make out the different suits of cards in this photo.

Here you can see how steep the bank is.  The castle is set high up for defensive reasons.

The roofs of these houses provided me with some of the images in my last post.