A week in the country

I have had the most wonderful, exciting and action packed year with the 45 anniversary of my needlepoint design and teaching and just at the beginning of the month my 80 birthday!

The anniversary was so special in many ways, first with an extensive exhibition of work, needlepoint done by some very talented students, an opportunity to be inspired by ingenious adaptions of standard designs into upholstered pieces as well as a preview of all the new designs with their gorgeous threads and exciting stitchery 

 The other result was many, many people whom I had not seen for a very long time contacted me and some managed to attend the exhibition and assure us that they were still enjoying their stitching.  This reconnection meant an enormous amount to me and I must thank every one of you who responded.

Another pleasure was our 9th visit to Calabria, way down in southern Italy and a first, a visit to a beautiful estate in Tuscany which was an equal success and both are planned again for 2017;  Tuscany in May and Calabria in September.

My birthday, well it hasn’t really sunk in yet; so many people appeared to know (whether it was Facebook or just good memories) but the amount of cards, well wishes and calls was really appreciated enormously and celebrating with my extended family was great.

Which brings me to the ‘week in the country’.  My daughter Candida drove over from France to be with us (her husband Paul unfortunately had to stay behind with the animals, 2 horses, 3 dogs and 2 goats at the present count!)   After the celebrations Candida and I drove back together - much more fun driving with a companion especially around Paris!

They have an old stone mill which they have owned now for some years but is still on ‘ongoing project’ however with log fires and Christmas decorations the whole place looked very festive.  As a family we all love Christmas trees and it has always been a tradition to acquire a few new ornaments each year and so it is particularly nostalgic to see some of the most loved pieces again.

Those of you who came to the Mill in Norfolk might remember the very high ceiling in the living area and I well remember the late Alex Larkin helping me firstly to choose a 12’ tree in the plantation, have it cut down, bringing it home – up the stairs was no easy matter – and then decorating it.

Another strong memory I have was an exhibition at Woodlawn Plantation, the Christmas of 1999 when, besides a marvellous display of needlepoint from various shop owners, Christopher Radko decorated the main rooms with his amazing collection of blown glass ornaments.

Even though my original collection is divided among my children, each piece has a story and helping Candida dress her tree brought so many happy events back.

It might sound odd but Robert and I tend to spend the holiday period with members of our own families; we are together most of the year, have wonderful overseas trips together but, at Christmas we do like to follow the customers of our particular families.

Then, besides the traditional garlands, holly decked with berries and red candles in tall candlesticks there was the food to prepare.   Although I am back here in England for the actual days, Candida’s birthday is on the 18th December I was allowed (indeed encouraged) to help with some of the traditional food, so we had happy times, shopping. preparation and cooking some of the items we as a family associate with Christmas.   The rich fruit cake was made for us but honestly part of the fun is both marzipan, icing and decorating the cake; we stuffed fresh dates with left-over marzipan, dipped some in melted chocolate and decorated other with stem ginger – both delicious and not too sweet.

Another first was a suggestion of simmering a large ham in cider for many hours till the cider has reduced to a thick sauce, again delicious cold and just so useful for a quick sandwich or with a baked potato (my absolutely favourite) when there are so many other things to do.

Christmas pudding is another must in England, when there are very small children around, a small silver coin can be buried in the pudding and the lucky person who finds it has a wish.    Again there is a number of traditional sauces to be served; my family have always gone for the brandy butter, but Paul remembers a delicious brandy sauce (so Candida will be making that too) Some families prefer thick cream and others a warm home-made custard – I know I shall be sticking to the brandy butter myself.

So, what has this got to do with needlepoint you may ask; lots, I can assure you.  First when absolutely exhausted with the cooking, climbing up ladders to fix decorations and wrapping presents a comfortable armchair and some stitching is the best relaxing turn off possible.   Second you might have made – or just be finishing off a spec case, i-pad cover or pincushion destined as a present or you might have some stockings to hang up for Santa to fill or – if you are American you may even have a tree skirt to mask the base of the tree ready to  pile the presents around   I say ‘American’ as, however much I adore and admire the beautiful skirts I have seen there is no way I would needlepoint one to be admired for so short a time and probably covered with gift wrapped parcels most of it.

Then of course should you wish to get ahead with next year’s present, here we have a two day Christmas ball class (May 10 & 11th) with Ruth Dilts when one ball will be worked but the techniques for both the work and the finishing will be explained for future designs.  Let me know if you would like full details.  I myself hope to make one for each of my children for their next year’s tree.

So my week in France went far too quickly but with so many happy memories I have returned refreshed and encouraged to do our own home especially for a party we traditionally hold on New Year’s Eve and await some newly painted canvases with ideas for our Tuscan stitching trip – I can’t wait to both select the threads and stitches.

Wishing you all the happiest Christmas and a healthy and joyous New Year



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