Life & Lifestyle

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Indigo-dyeing day

I'm more than pleased with my first try at indigo dyeing.

Indigo dresses

I thought I'd share my first attempts at indigo dyeing. 

It's all courtesy of my friend M, who has a lovely workshop because she dyes yarn for a living, and decided to invite all her friends over to try their hands at this technique. I was in the second workshop, and decided to cut some dress lengths, because in the past, when I've done shibori dyeing, I've ended up with pieces of fabric that were too small to use. 

This time I was determined not to make the same mistake, so I cut a simple sundress shape out of fabrics in my stash. One is a white-on-white stripe chintz that I've had for over 25 years and never used, and the two others were cut from a bamboo and cotton single duvet cover.

I also did some test samples on offcuts of kimono silk and old haori linings that I'd removed from garments that I dissassembled.

I spent the night before the workshop tying and stitching my fabrics.

mokume shibori

One dress length I did as mokume - a technique where you sew running stitches through the cloth then draw it up. I actually did this on my sewing machine, using a 20mm tacking stitch through both pieces of fabric, and when drawn up, the piece was only around six inches long. You can see here how the striped chintz adds an extra level of texture. 

 'bean' shibori and maki-nuiAnother, I knew I wanted mostly dark, so I tied individual dried beans into it, using elastic bands rather than thread. On the bodice section, I used black-eyed beans, in the middle section I used chickpeas and on the skirt part I used white kidney beans. (The different sizes proved to be a waste of time, as they all came out looking virtually identical.) I also whipstitched in between the motifs on the bodice part - a technique called maki-ori. 

kumo shibori

The third piece was a last-minute decision - kumo shibori of a sort, though very rough in technique. I just drew up a handful of cloth into a point and secured it with one or two elastic bands, going all over the cloth until it was covered. Each dress length ended up about six inches wide and a foot long. 

The indigo had been mixed in a plastic dustbin, using ready-to-use indigo crystals. Apparently it's important to let it settle until it forms a yellowish layer on top, rather like oil on vinegar in a salad dressing. Into this, you dip your fabric, preferably wet to the ease the penetration of the dye, and trying to disturb the surface layer as little as possible to avoid oxygenating the mix.

Three of us, L, V and myself were all trying this, suspending our pieces on coathangers with bits of string, as the level of the dye was well below the height of the bin. Each dip takes a few minutes, then as you pull out the fabric it turns first bright turquoise, then - as it oxidises - blue. You allow it to dry a bit, then dip it again if you want to strengthen the colour. Between us, we did dress lengths, t-shirts, scarves and various pieces of cloth. We were later joined by C, who used cushion-cover-size pieces, each with a different design. 

Indigo vat

I dipped my mokume dress and the silk samples twice and the other dresses three times, but I now wish I'd carried on dipping perhaps another twice to get a really dark indigo blue, given that this colour will fade. Nevertheless, I'm absolutely made-up by the results. All of the silk samples were rubbish, pretty much (indigo doesn't penetrate as far into fabric as the Procion dyes I'm used to, so my pleated efforts, etc, were totally wasted) but the dress lengths all came out exactly as I'd hoped. 

Indigo samples

An indigo vat will keep for some weeks, so I'm now going to shibori some more garment lengths - maybe trousers this time - and see what effects I can get while the going's good. Wish me luck.  

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A change of plans

The best-laid plans

Well, it's Friday the Thirteenth. Ooh err. 

All nonsense, of course, but the day starts with our having to cancel planned filming on our new movie, The Garden, as it's chucking it down with rain and some of the crew have come down splat with colds in any case.

They were filming here yesterday in bitter temperatures. Although I'd sent out an email reminding everyone to dress in their warmest clothes I was a bit surprised when they all turned up in short jackets. I think people underestimate how cold you get when you're standing around in the cold rather than walking around in it.

The DH, of course, was walking about without a coat at all, not because he's hard, but because he'd donned his Regatta fleece thermals as a base layer and was wearing neoprene-lined wellies, so he was as warm as toast.

The day began thrillingly frost-covered, with the whole landscape looking like a Christmas card, but to my, and everyone elses's surprise, he didn't want to film in it for continuity reasons, and instead waited until most of the frost had burned off. A missed opportunity to my mind, but then it's not my movie.

My job, as usual, was makeup and costumes. Our main female character, who is nameless, is dressed a bit like a rock chick, necessitating jeans, loads of cheap jewellery, a t-shirt with writing all over it and a denim waistcoat. This, quelle surprise, had gone missing in the post (exactly as happened with our last shoot), but luckily one of the crew had an old denim jacket that he didn't mind us butchering, so while the crew had breakfast, I frantically cut it up to make a waistcoat (sleeves off, shoulders narrowed, bottom trim removed and sides taken in). I then frayed all the raw edges and it looked great - exactly what we were after. 

Since our earlier location had blown out (hence the necessity to film at our house), and along with it, the caterer, I was also doing the food, and had spent hours over the previous few days creating vegetarian soups and curries, plus puddings, for the supposed seven to eight crew members. Only two are veggie, but it saved cooking two separate dishes.

After everyone had had breakfast and gone out, I tidied up, kept the woodburner loaded up and then, at 11.00, took hot chocolate, cakes and hot water bottles out into the garden, all of which were met with alacrity by the freezing crew. E, our sound girl, ended up with a hot water bottle under each arm, stuffed up her gilet, while P, a new guy on board, had feet that were completely frozen.  

Once elevenses were over, I started on lunch, gently reheating a Chinese mushroom soup I'd made the day before, plus a quiche that P had brought with him, and focaccias and ciabattinis. M kept popping in and out, as she had to 'look summery', but she was streaming with cold, and C too began to feel achey and shivery as the day wore on.

Lunch was meant to be at 1.00 but they carried on filming till 1.45, then we all sat down and everyone ate like they'd never seen food before. It must have been tough going outside again after that, even though the day had warmed up to a balmy 9 degrees or so. I was glad I could stay in by the fire. 

Another hour's filming and they began to lose the light, and they finished up about 4.30. I made coffees for everyone then, and we reviewed the rushes, and everyone toddled off home again, ready to be up at 6.00 this morning for another day.

Sadly, it is not to be, so it's back to adopt Plan B, fridge up the massive vegetarian curry that was defrosting in the kitchen, and we'll just have to hope we can start again tomorrow.   

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A question of balance

A bit of balance would be very welcome in our lives right now.

Well 2015 does seem to be getting off to a bad start. We could really do with things getting back to normal pretty soon. 

Not only did I start the year with a job loss, so have almost no money coming in, this was shortly followed by the terrible massacres in Paris (and even round here the gendarmes are now armed with sub-machine guns, which is hardly a comforting sight), then the death of a close friend, and then by some upset in a couple of groups of which I'm a member. Someone also reversed into our car while we were parked.

Hopefully these things will all blow over, but it feels almost like there was a shiver in the ether or something. I am keen for things to get back to normal.

The death of our friend and colleague Steve Gold, in particular, has thrown us into not only grief but a mid-life crisis. The other day, the DH and I sat down and decided to make strong efforts to achieve more happiness in our lives. In his case, that means film-making and electronics; in mine it means more sewing and beading. And for both of us it means getting out more and feeling as if we really live in France, rather than just in our house. Beautiful though it is, it could be anywhere - Scotland or Wales - and if one doesn't make the trips to the bakery and the café and the patisserie, some very pleasant aspects of French life go by the board. 

In the interests of achieving some peace and quiet psychologically, I am also progressing in my Zen Den. The daybed has arrived, which replaces the old double bed, and it has been furnished with a nice mattress and lots of cushions. I've installed some lovely Diptyque candles, a little Zen garden, my singing bowl and runes, lots of light in the shape of SAD lightboxes, daylight-balanced fluorescents and softer lighting for evening. There's room for my yoga mat to go down without having to move anything, and the animals, much as I love them, can be shut out. (As anyone who's tried to do yoga with cats or dogs around will know, they do tend you 'help you out' in distinctly unhelpful ways...). My plan now is to sell our old Renault to pay for a huge cupboard to be built in.

The other night I had one of my white menopausal nights and came down at about 4.00am. Instead of sitting in our vast living room, I went and snuggled up in the Zen Den under a quilt and read a 1920s book of household tips until I felt sleepy again. It was lovely to have this quiet, white retreat with no fear of disturbance and I think it will be a haven in the coming months. 

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Charlie Hebdo sold out

The first million copies have all gone

It's 9.30am and we're just back from a trip into town to buy Charlie Hebdo. No joy - it's sold out. 

In our local presse, we managed to reserve a copy for Friday - the Thursday reserves are all booked. One copy each - you can't buy multiple copies, it's strictly one per person. In the supermarket, meanwhile, it was all sold out within minutes of the store opening.

The solidarity shown by the French people since this godawful incident is amazingly heartening. The extremists have stuck a fork in the toaster this time, when they kill journalists, police officers and Jews and threaten the civil liberties of an entire nation.

I know that the image on the cover offends some Muslims who have decided it's Mohammed (although whether it is, is moot, and there is besides a long tradition of depicting the Prophet in Shia Islam - the idea that depictions are and always have been forbidden is simply not true). But I live in a village with a church, whose presence offends me because I am an atheist. I have a friend who is a big fan of Thatcher. We can't all go around killing one another because we disagree about subjects - offence is something that is taken, not given.

 

 

 

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Steve Gold RIP

A good friend died last night.

Our friend Steve Gold died last night. 

He had complications following heart surgery, which he had needed for a long time due to his heart failing. 

Steve and I were friends for about 25 years, almost half my life, and he was friends with my husband for even longer. In fact, he was how we met. I was working on PC Dealer magazine in 1991 when Steve, who was acting editor, brought aboard his friend 'Rotsky' to act as features editor.

Steve was always an ebullient man. Fundamentally a techhead, he had also worked as a psychiatric nurse or orderly - I forget which - and was one of the first to warn me that my then-boyfriend was a psycho (he was not at all wrong, as it later proved). He was a kind and generous co-worker and few of those who knew him will forget his 'hacking' of the fruit machines in various pubs to pay for rounds of drinks for the PC Dealer team.

When I met my now-husband of nearly 20 years, Steve was the one who lent us his flat so we could talk in peace and quiet. He was sympathetic partly because he had by then met the woman who would become his wife, Sylvia. On one occasion, Sylvia was visiting her family in Poland and Steve decided to send her some red roses. He spent about 20 dollars, not realising that this would buy all the roses in the district, and the flowers arrived at the family house by the cartload. 

Although we spoke just about every week on the phone, I last saw Steve in 2011, when I visited London briefly. I was a bit shocked by his appearance. Even then, he was looking pale, though his personality was as ebullient as ever and he made light of any concerns. He gave me a cake for my birthday, and, as ever, he slipped me some tablets - on this occasion Imuran - understanding very well how poorly I was with my ulcerative colitis. We took different routes on that issue - he taking whatever the medical profession could offer him, myself opting for the natural and diet method. But it may be that the UC in the end was what killed him - he told me last year that it had weakened his heart and he would need major surgery.

He went in for this not long before Christmas, which we knew although he hadn't announced it - worried, perhaps, as a freelance journalist, that people might not book him for work if they knew how ill he was? I don't know, but although he seemed to be recovering well from surgery, yesterday he could not be woken, and he died in the night.

We'll miss you, Glod. I don't care how good a journalist you were, or how respected in your field. For us, you were just a good mate. Rest in peace.  

 

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Je suis Charlie

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The last days of summer

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