A Small Token of Your Affection

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The Lovely Young Man has run off to Australia for a fortnight (for work, and he said he’d just as rather it had been in Bolton) so he and I are currently reduced to the range of affectionate greeting afforded by a querty keyboard.

Still, its better than nothing. I keep thinking about what a different world it is that Dragon has weekly video calls with his grandparents and that I’m feeling hard done by that I won’t be able to see LYM for two days until our timezones and travel plans align.

i <3 u hand embroidery - Misericordia 2013

Love to have it? Click to shop at http://www.misericordia.co.uk

Still, I think this set of mini canvases is quite sweet, maybe as a gift for a long distance love, or a sneaky reminder to your teenager who barely looks up from their phone, that emotion does indeed exist outside of the emoticon!

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Never mind the B*ll*cks

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I’m not a frequent user of strong language, preferring to save it for when it’s really necessary. (Let me state here, for the record that creative pesudo-swearing is of far higher quality in my adopted homeland. I’ll use sodding over fricking any day.)

Bollocks - Bespoke Roman monumental capitals carved in Welsh slate. by Seb Lester

Bollocks – Bespoke Roman monumental capitals carved in Welsh slate. by Seb Lester

However this particular piece of stone masonry tickled my fancy for a few reasons:

There’s a certain inherent and potential bollocks in any situation involving masonry and hammers that amuses me (too many New Yorker cartoons and silent films in my youth, perhaps).

I feel that there’s a kindred artistic spirit in the manufacturing of words that aren’t meant to last in a painstaking and monumental piece of work. It’s part of what I try to capture in my work, and it’s always nice to see how other people play with it.

And lastly, it’s a beautiful and complex object, both visually and tactilely. The various interpretations of the sentiment expressed juxtaposed with the baggage inherent in monumental stonework and the irrepressible urge to giggle inevitably and repeatedly are pretty much perfect.

Oh, and it’s for sale!

Living the Dream?

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It sounds like we are *this* close to getting a date to move into our new/old flat. This is at once exciting and terrifying.

Since we last lived there as students (with rooms that sported, for instance, green walls, a blue ceiling and orange radiators) we’ve had lots of bits and pieces done that we always meant to get round to. I was determined that we would have a more grown-up feel to the flat this time around.

Now that it’s all painted to my rather simply complex colour scheme*, it looks like the setting for some extremely trendy interior design photo shoot. The light in the flat is gorgeous, and the beautifully empty space has allowed my mind (and my Pinterest board) to fill up with things a bit like this.

(Observant readers will notice that there is no allowance made for either our possessions, our cat or our three year old.)

Either I’ll pull off a major re-organisational coup and live in an aspirational dream home or it will still be a flat full of 75% things I love, 15% things I don’t like very much but use frequently and can’t think of better or more attractive alternatives to and 10% stuff I have determined must go but have yet to convince their owners to dispose of.

I shall, of course, keep you updated on all skirmishes and triumphs. Any good interior design blog suggestions are most welcome!

*I’ve painted every room in varying shades of Bone China Blue, with the lightest shade in the kitchen (the darkest room), getting darker as it goes towards the front of the flat where there’s more light.

Joy – The Artificial Amplification of Festivities

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I went to the shops for the first time in ages on the weekend, just to make sure that we started to teach Dragon The (Jenners) Knowledge and for a nice lunch with my mum.

Oh, the Christmas stuff, it’s there already. I have an ever-changing relationship to the whole Christmas in October thing, it was at its most negative when I worked in a shop, but now that I’m busy getting myself all festified as a seller, I’m a wee bit less grumpy about it.

But if you are grumpy, I entirely understand.

I even have something to express your overwhelming contempt for the artificial amplification of festivities.

Joy hand embroidered hoop - Misericordia 2013

Want it? click here…

*The fairy dust is entirely ironic, I assure you.

Tools: Hoops

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It’s a little ironic that my hoop embroideries are un-hooped until they’re washed, starched and ready to stretch.

Hoops by Misericordia

See hoops by Misericordia

I know that technically a hoop should make for more even stitches and all that, but it always sees to get in my way (not to mention that it takes up so much more room in my bag). Even when I’m doing pretty long satin stitches I seem to have the tension (at least in that small corner of my life) pretty well under control.

Silent Night by Misericordia 2012

See Silent Night by Misericordia

But I really like the way that the embroideries look stretched over hoops. The drum-like top, the little gathers running under the backing like pleats on pointe shoes.

There’s always a moment, about one third of the way around, when I fear that it will all pucker and sag and pull everything really tight, but by the time I’ve made it around the hoop I always have to rebalance everything to keep the thread from snapping.

Every. single. time.

I Need Your Pets!

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How much do you love your furry (or not so furry) friends?

Tiger hand embroidery - Misericordia 2012

Maybe there’s a pet from your childhood that you’d like to have a tangible reminder of in your home?

Pilot text - Misericorida

I’m looking for some adorable pets to inspire some hoop embroideries, and I hope you can help!

In exchange for being my well, guinea pig, you get a 30% discount on the usual price of a hoop (£21 instead of £30) and I get a chance to try out a new range!

If you’re searching for a holiday present for a pet lover, this is definitely more unusual than dog perfume!

If you’re interested, please contact me here and I’ll give you all the details I need to get started.

Please feel free to pass this offer onto anyone, it’s especially good as a hint!

‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream

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Now that I’ve recovered from a rather severe cheese hangover*, I can tell you all about my most recent commission.

Some friends of ours got married, a MacGregor and a McGregor, and they wanted something that they could use as a decoration during the ceremony and reception as well as a memento of their wedding.

I decided to keep things simple (for a change) and, sticking to the tones in the M(a)cGregor tartan, make them a clan crest since the bride mentioned that there was one at her parents’ house that she’d always liked.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll maybe have seen my disagreements with this rather fierce lion.

But in the end, I managed to convince the beast to do what I wanted and the happy couple were thrilled with their embroidery.

*I’m pretty good at restraining myself on the drink, but there was a cheese cake instead of a wedding cake. A cake made of lovely British cheese, I was not restrained.

The Details are Important

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I’m having a bit of a crisis, we’re living at my in-law’s flat until we finish doing up our flat and the tea doesn’t taste right.

I have no explanation for it, the water in our previous and current tea-making locations are both Very Soft, it’s all mains water and the only thing I can blame is this.

Tea is a subject that seems to generate a lot of very heated opinions which are based on irrational personal preference. Among my tea preferences* are for teapots and cups I can see into, dark ones are too mysterious.

George Orwell wrote a beautiful wee article about tea, which I have reproduced here for your entertainment.

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points. This is curious, not only because tea is one of the mainstays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than 11 outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own 11 rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays—it is economical, and one can drink it without milk—but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities—that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes—a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup—that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold—before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea—unless one is drinking it in the Russian style—should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connection with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become.

There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet.

It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the 20 good, strong cups that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

Evening Standard, 12 January 1946

From The Orwell Prize website

I happen to disagree with him on a few points, namely that I almost exclusively drink China tea, usually out of a metal tea pot and with substantially reduced quantities of leaves, but on the whole I feel the need to print it and hand it out when I order tea while out and about.

*Another firmly held belief of mine is that hot water out of an espresso machine does not taste the same as water boiled in the more usual way.

Drawing In

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I am in no way trying to hurry on the end of summer, but there’s a definite hint of cooking apples and knee socks in the air.

I’m outside a lot more than I was last year, now that we’re able to ditch the car and walk more places. It definitely gives you a better appreciation for the alternation between bright autumn sunshine and sudden arctic blasts!

We’re stockpiling all the bits of wood from various building works, and looking forward to using it for free fuel in our fireplaces, so I must admit that’s quite a sweetener to the darkening evenings.

Silent Night hand embroidery - Misericordia 2012

So as the nights (and duvets) draw in, what are you most looking forward to?

Ambitious Bedtime Stories

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The Lovely Young Man (I’m reviving nicknames of yesteryear for Batman) and I were both children of The Trade (academia) and it has influenced our Dragon-rearing in a few ways.

We take the statistical view about a lot of things, from Dragon’s pasta benders (67% of his total caloric intake) to the amount of damage leaving him weeping at nursery will do (0.00000427798% of his entire life). We talk about work, a lot.

We read very ambitious bedtime stories…

It was kind of started by my dad, who read me Grapes of Wrath, Great Expectations and The Scarlet Letter.

We hadn’t really intended to start it quite as soon as we did. LYM started reading to Dragon to keep him quiet while I was brushing my teeth before the bedtime feed when he first came home. I found myself hanging out in the doorway, brushing as quietly as possible. When this became a bit deleterious to my dental health, we started reading stories (of our choosing) seriously.

Now of course, Dragon has his own ideas about what stories he wants to listen to, but we always finish with Family Stories. I have to say that it’s completely changed my opinion about Dickens (who is vastly improved by being read aloud in short segments) and soap operas (I find myself worrying throughout the day about what’s going to happen next to the characters we’re reading about). I’ve also discovered a few authors who I couldn’t get through as a child (Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens).

We’re currently reading Catriona by Robert Louis Stevenson, a particularly lovely charity shop find, and I’ve got a list as long as my arm for future reads.

What’s your favourite unusual bedtime story?