Away With the Fairies Embroidered Blouse

I present to you the Away With the Fairies embroidered autumnal blouse, featuring split stitch text, padded satin, long and short stitch and bullion knot fly agaric on the back of the collar, and long and short stitch mushrooms on the front, with straight stitch grass. The model is the beautiful Katrina Bautista. Here are the Nikon 35mm shots, as well as a handful of test shots we took on Kat's iPhone. The Fuji Instax and (extremely expired) Polaroid prints are still to come. I am embroidering a blouse for each season; next up is obviously Winter. This blouse will soon be up for sale on my Tictail.

For hand embroidery commissions, contact me at katerolison@googlemail.com

 


















Romantic Blouses


I haven't posted for a while. Life has been busy, and I've been going with the flow a lot more. I've still been making work and been involved in arts projects, but in this age of Instagram I find it easier tp share my goings-on over there - I'm @poesiegrenadine if you fancy a follow. I imagine I will be posting here little and (slightly more) often going forward; I'm really enjoying the visual at the moment and working on lots of different things.

My current big personal project has already been a work of many months; a series of Romantic-with-a-capital-R-inspired embroidered blouses. They are inspired by the Cottingley fairies, botanical illustration, English forests and woodlands, and, as you might have guessed, the Romantic poets. I'd wanted to make them for a long time and wanted to have them finished by the summer, but I am only halfway through the second! I think this may become a project that is ready for next summer. I'm eager to get started on some smaller embroideries once blouse #2 is out of the way.

Below are the blouses so far. I am available for commissions: please email me at katerolison@googlemail.com














Rose-Red


I feel that to call Alice Whiting a stylist, which indeed she is, may be misleading. The word calls to mind a woman burdened with armfuls of bags, scurrying around sourcing the correct clothing, shabby chic bread boards and backdrops in just the right shade of mauve; not too pink, not too purple. Working to a creative director's specific instructions; sourcing the goods. 

Alice is a stylist by profession. She is an artist by nature. I first came across her work in Polyester Zine in the form of cakes which straddled the line between saccharine and cyanide (sample icing: "Just another sentimental crisis") and evoked the kind of abject loveliness which I am very much about.

So when I was put in touch with her about an embroidery commission, I was naturally very excited about working with such a visionary woman. As she told me what the commission would involve, my excitement grew.

Initially Alice simply wanted the words "I still believe in happy endings" embroidered on to a white silk corset. However, the garment she ended up selecting was a 1940s wedding dress. This gave us more room to play with, and Alice decided that she wanted the dress to be embroidered with the names of her ex boyfriends, showing that although the course of true love never had run smooth, she was still a romantic at heart.

I was enchanted with the Miss Haversham echoes and that tension between the sweetly feminine and the overbearing, grotesquely feminine in Alice's idea.

We had a quick email ping pong about fonts and also decided the names of the ex boyfriends would be interspersed with Disney storybook-esque roses in red and pink.

I traced the words and roses and applied these designs to the dress using the ancient pricking and pouncing technique.

I started with the most impactful text, "I still believe in happy endings". I sewed around the outlines of the words in split stitch and then filled them in using satin stitch for density and impact. This technique would be repeated for the individual names of the ex boyfriends. Once the words were filled in, another outline of split stitch was added to make the words crisp.

The roses were completed in the same way, but in analogous pinks, purples and reds.

Alice has since told me that the dress is "one of my favourite things ever", which makes me feel just wonderful! I can't wait to see her style it to perfection.



































Heart Shaped Foodstuff Day

Pip and I really got into the spirit of things this Valentine's Day. Traditionally, we make some variety of heart-shaped food. This year, we made two varieties. It's sweet that Pip seemed even more excited about this prospect this time around than I did. My love of schmaltz is clearly infectious!

I dressed for the occasion, all in red.



My embroidered 1960s shift dress is a hand me down from my friend, fellow artist and vintage aficionado Kat.

My cherry bomb pom pom earrings (which are quite the conversation piece!) are from Frilly Pops.

My red suede and white off-white saddle shoes are reproduction 40s/50s from Morello's.

Our main course was a heart shaped spinach, halloumi, feta and pine nut pie.



Rustic Greek Pie Recipe

Ingredients

200g fresh spinach

1 block of readymade shortcrust pastry (terrible, I know)

3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

150g halloumi, roughly chopped in small chunks

120g feta, crumbled in chunks

60ml cream

2 eggs

A good few handfuls of pine nuts

A good pinch of fresh or dried oregano (or mixed herbs)

Black pepper to season

Lemon wedges to serve

Method

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6/200°C/400°C.

Put a few glugs of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heart. Add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes. Add all the spinach gradually, mixing with the garlic until it has all wilted down. Wipe the oil from the frying pan and add the pine nuts. Toast them for a few minutes until browned. (We forgot to do this and had to add them to the dish un-toasted!)

In a jug, whisk the eggs and add the cream.

Roll your shop bought (or made from scratch if you're not lazy cheats like us!) pastry block into a large thin oval shape. Use your hands to sculpt it into a heart. Transfer it to a baking tray and roll the sides up so that they are a good 4cm higher than the rest of the pastry, while still retaining the heart shape.

Using a spoon, spread the spinach and garlic mixture all over the inside of the pastry.

Scatter the crumbled halloumi and feta on top of the spinach and garlic mixture.

Pour the cream and egg mixture over the spinach and cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the pastry and cheese has become golden brown.

Cut yourselves half a heart each and serve with a wedge of lemon.


We also baked red velvet cheesecake brownies, a gloriously American dessert that we ate the majority of fresh, hot and squidgy straight from the oven! Unfortunately ours didn't turn out very red; possibly we used too much cocoa powder.


Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies Recipe

Ingredients

For the brownie layer:

115g butter

220g brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food colouring

1 teaspoon white vinegar

120g cocoa powder (we used Green & Black's, which is Fairtrade and organic! Yay!)

2 eggs, whisked

120g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the cheesecake layer:

230g cream cheese

55g brown sugar

1 egg, whisked

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°C.

Grease a small baking tray and line with baking paper.

Brownie Layer

In a small glass bowl suspended over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter for the brownies. When melted, tip into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, food colouring and vinegar, mixing between additions and making sure to add each ingredient in that order. Mix in the two whisked eggs. Sieve in the flour and mix until well combined. Pour mixture into the baking tray, keeping back a little to dollop on top once you have added the cheesecake layer.

Cheesecake Layer

In a bowl, blend together the cream cheese, sugar, whisked egg and vanilla extract until softened and slightly runny. Spread the cream cheese mixture in a layer over the layer of brownie mixture. Dollop the brownie mixture you kept back on top of the cream cheese layer, leaving plenty of room between each dollop.

Drag the tip of a knife between the cream cheese layer and the dollops of brownie mixture to create a flat, swirled surface. 

Bake for 30 minutes. Lift the baking paper with the brownies on top of it on to a wire rack to cool, and once cooled, cut into chunks. Or, in our case, scoff them all straight from the oven!

Our second heart shaped food of the day was a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly. We've got to be the only couple in their mid-twenties to have made a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly for Valentine's Day. To hell with champagne!

We scoured the high street for vegetarian jelly, and finally found some in Holland and Barrett. 


Giant Heart Shaped Raspberry Jelly Recipe

Ingredients

4 packets of vegetarian raspberry jelly crystals

Method

The instructions on the packet said simply to add a pint of boiling water, so we added each sachet to a jug and filled it up to a pint with the kettle, before pouring the mixture into our incredible heart shaped mold, which we got the first Valentine's we were together, and unfortunately is no longer stocked by IKEA!

Lift the mold carefully on to the plate and leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours. We garnished our jelly with Loveheart sweets and ate it with vanilla ice cream. Oh, to be six again!


Pip had roses delivered, which was a lovely surprise. I gave him a 1950s sweets-themed cheesy Valentine's card from my extensive collection, which you can just see peeking out in this Polaroid:













We rounded off our evening watching the wistfully harrowing (or harrowingly wistful?) Never Let Me Go, sipping sloe gin martinis and Leffe.


Sloe Gin Martini Recipe

Shake 3 parts sloe gin with 1 part dry vermouth and 4 dashes angostura bitters with ice. Serve in a chilled martini glass (mine had a red stem to match my outfit and the jelly!)



We spent the next morning at Jesse's Cafe, a gloriously kitsch greasy spoon with pink booths, offering everything from Cypriot sausages to cherry pie. We both opted for a fry up, but will certainly be back to try both. It's a gorgeous cafe (the crockery is so dainty, and emblazoned with "Jesse's Cafe"!) and so, so cheap.




I can't remember the last time I had such a lovely, chilled, delicious weekend. We're really going to have to pull out all the stops next year!





The Illustrated Embroiderer

If you know me, you'll know I'm fond of a frock (or seven). My room is currently groaning under the weight of 60s dresses, and the surplus has started seeping out into other rooms too. But when it comes to dresses, I firmly don't believe in too much of a good thing. Particularly when it comes to the gorgeous details of my two most recent acquisitions.

Both are not only lovingly hand-crafted, but also feature illustrations by the designers themselves. 



First up is a delightfully atomic-era-esque number by Supayana. I've followed Supayana(aka Yana Gorbulsky)'s work ever since my teens, when I had misguided dreams of becoming an indie fashion designer. Back in the day, Yana spliced and recycled cute thrifted tops to make her own creations. Her green fashion credentials continue to this day, when she makes use of old and unwanted vintage fabrics, and eco-friendly materials in her designs. Her pieces are now much more refined and elegant than they were at the beginning of her career, when the mishmash of her designs could be said to be an acquired taste (it's certainly one I like, though!)

In recent years, Yana has collaborated with artist Olivia Mew, incorporating Olivia's illustrations into her Spring/Summer 2012 collection of children's clothing and womenswear. I couldn't pass up on one of her illustrated fox tops back then, and I couldn't pass up on a foxy dress now, with a sweet illustration designed by Yana herself, of leaping foxes and bunting.



I've followed Caitlin Shearer's work since my teens too (though I suspect initially that had something to do with us both being mildly obsessed with Patrick Wolf!) Over the years I've seen Caitlin's paintings and illustrations mature into an utterly idiosyncratic and instantly recognisable dreamy aesthetic, echoed in her gorgeous Instagram snaps of bouquets of flowers and her own enviable collection of mid-century dresses. If you've never encountered Caitlin Shearer's work before, I urge you to go check out her Etsy shop. Go now.

In 2012, Caitlin began to introduce a line of dresses and textiles illustrated with her original watercolour paintings to her Etsy shop. A delectably tempting plethora of sweet, slightly puff-sleeved, 50s inspired sundresses are available, with illustrations ranging from pastel biscuits to girl scout badges. The Mermaid dress, however, is the one I've had my eye on since then, and after many months of saving pennies, it recently landed in my letter box.

It's even more dreamy in person; though perhaps a little risqué to wear to School! These mermaids are certainly sirens.




Both these dresses are perfect for the sudden Spring weather we're having (I spent my lunchtime today on a picnic blanket in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, soaking up the sunshine). I'm certainly feeling much sunnier, too.

Feasting, Friends and Fabulous Frocks: Adventures in the South West


After trips to both the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Wight, I couldn't possibly be in need of another holiday... or could I? Well dear readers, it turns out I'm very spoilt indeed, as Pip and I have just returned from our trip down to the West Country for the Bank Holiday weekend.

And my, what a trip it was. I feel I may soon be imposing a strict exercise regime upon myself, as I scoffed a delicious plethora of foods (and in such vast quantities!) Pip and I have both returned laden with books and records, and I also picked up some sewing bits and bobs to be incorporated into The Constellation Quilt, and three pretty Sixties frocks bought for me by my lovely boyfriend (I told you I was spoilt).

I took plenty of pictures, and shall now regale you with my pick of the best places to eat, shop, and soak up the atmosphere in Totnes, Bristol, and Bath.

We arrived in Totnes, Devon, on Friday morning and headed straight to Dartington, my old home and place of study. Due to a dispute with the Dartington Trust, Dartington College of Arts no longer exists, and was amalgamated into University College Falmouth in 2010 (and thus I spent the second and third years of my degree in Falmouth... but it was never quite the same as dear old Darty!)

Predictably, I found that a lot had changed since my time there, though some things were the same; wandering minstrels were playing in the gardens, and made a lovely accompaniment  to our lunch at The White Hart, the pub to which my tutors occasionally deigned to take their students (well, until the wasps scared us inside!)

The White Hart itself, however, was almost unrecognisable; a curvy spaceship style neon bar was installed, there was now only one kind of cider on tap (sort it out, White Hart!), and the restaurant now served what purported to be "British tapas".

Dubious though this sounded, our tapas transpired to be absolutely scrumptious. I opted for masala chicken and a lemon, chilli and crab pasta, both of which came to the table topped with ominously nouveau cuisine bubbling substances. The crab pasta in particular was mouth-watering... I could eat it all over again.



Being veggie, Pip's healthy choices put me to shame. He had a trio of peppers filled with giant couscous, and a leafy bean salad.



We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gardens of Dartington Hall. When I studied there, my coursemates and I would walk through these gardens every day to our lectures or the library... such an idyllic time.








I'd stocked up on Polaroid film ahead of the trip, and demanded a snap of my favourite Dartington tree and I (we share a very special connection as my final project of first year occurred inside its trunk). Unfortunately we didn't realise the flash had been left on, and I came out looking very ghostly indeed; quite appropriate, as during the entire day we spent at Dartington I was quite convinced the place was haunted with ghosts of art students past...


From the gardens (which you really must visit if you ever get the chance, they're so inspiring) we wandered up to take a look at my old halls, Foxhole, passing my beloved local cornfield on the way.






Unexpectedly, one of the doors to the halls was left ajar, and so we crept inside and I got a chance to show Pip the inside of the building where I'd studied, slept, and drank far too much all those years ago (alright, only three or four, but it seems much longer!)


 This was the most emotional aspect of the trip. Though there were summer school students staying in some of the rooms, Foxhole was eerily deserted. Hedges were overgrown, and the buildings, dilapidated when I was there, were yet more run down.


The pink walls of the buildings facing the courtyard, once red, pink in my time, had faded to blush.



I couldn't spend too much time there, it was too unnerving; it was never that quiet when I lived there.

Safely outside and away from the Dartington ghouls, I did what I've done on every holiday recently, and collected a pine cone to add to the shrine in my bedroom. This one was rather wonky, even a bit drunk (how fitting that I collected it from Dartington!)


After a quick nap back at the hotel (I know, we're amateurs), Pip and I ventured into Totnes and caught dinner at Rumour, a fantastic little wine bar where you can build your own pizza. And that is precisely what we did! Mine consisted of spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and goat's cheese. As you can see, neither of our pizzas lasted very long...




After a refreshing round of passion fruit fool (heavenly) for me and peanut butter chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet for Pip, we headed back to our hotel, The Seven Stars, for a night cap. Champagne cocktails were on offer in one of the bars, but being as neither of us drink champagne or have an extensive budget, we opted for the more moderately priced cocktails in the bar facing the street, below our bedroom window. Considering the look of horror on the bartender's face when we asked for cocktails, they weren't bad (though my sloe gin fizz certainly wasn't a sloe gin fizz). Very respectable whisky sours.

We'd devoted the whole of the next day to exploring Totnes and shopping. Number one on our list was Revival, which, three years later, is still my favourite vintage boutique of all time. You could almost miss the shop; it looks like it's collapsing in on itself, and its name can barely be made out amongst the plants trailing from baskets above.

But peek inside the windows and you get a glimpse of the treasures within...


Revival is stocked with everything from tissue paper thin 1920s evening gowns to 1980s ugly jumpers (two aesthetics I appreciate almost equally). Thanks to Pip, I came out with a green atomic print wiggle dress which wouldn't have looked out of place on Joan Holloway, an adorable Peter Pan collared mod number, and a romantic ditzy print sundress decorated with floral hearts and embroidery.

After nipping into a succession of fabric shops (incredibly well stocked, and almost everything is incredibly covetable), second hand book shops, and Drift, the friendliest record shop I've ever walked into (even if the records themselves are a touch on the obscure side; but hey, this is Totnes!), we were hankering after a good veggie lunch.



After a bit of aimless wandering, Pip spotted a sign advertising the Fat Lemons cafe, and as he so rightly observed, any cafe which advertises itself in Chiller font has got to be good. I'd always wanted to try the Fat Lemons, but any time I'd ventured near it in first year it seemed to be closed. This time, however, we were in luck. After a bit of dithering over where we were least likely to be beleaguered by wasps (seriously, they were terrible in Totnes), we ordered a pot of chai tea and seated ourselves upstairs among the bright and (appropriately) yellow surroundings.

I decided on spanakopita with tabbouleh, and Pip had  bean kofta with hummus. Both our meals came with a moreish sprouting salad and pitta bread.

I think I lucked out on the main event of the meal, however; my tabbouleh was light and zingy just as it should be, and my spanakopita was crunchy and flakey on the outside, moist on the inside. Pip assured me that his kofta was lovely, but the hummus lacked a certain something (my guess is garlic).



After our lunch we did a spot more people watching and dithering over fabric fripperies (that would be me), and then it was time to catch our train.

I'd brought Big Teeth along with me in an attempt to finish off the buttonholes, and couldn't resist having a quick stitch.



After a Magic Roll, a Bristolian Greek-inspired wrap version of a Subway, only several hundred times better, we set off to my old housemate Mark's flat, where we would be staying for two nights (first, of course, picking up a couple of bottles of wine as all good house guests should). Mark and I then proceeded to bore Pip and Mark's boyfriend Jake senseless reminiscing about Dartington and bemoaning all that had changed. What Pip and I hadn't realised was that the boys already had a very well stocked alcohol cupboard, and the four of us proceeded to spend the evening getting drunk and giggling over Adventure Time (mine and Pip's weakness) and Portlandia (which was scarily reminiscent of Dartington students).

After a gentle Sunday morning start (owing to our sore heads) we headed to Start The Bus, where, Pip assured us, a mean Sunday roast was to be had.

Regrettably, this was not the case. No veggie option meant, well, no option for Pip or Jake. But all was not lost; Start The Bus now offered diner style American classics, with more than a hint of a soul food influence. And if there's one thing I love, it's soul food, specifically: fried chicken. 

Foolishly I also ordered onion rings, and a basket of these arrived, as well as my bucket of chicken and chips. I enjoyed every last painful mouthful, and remain undefeated by fried foodstuffs.


Groaning under the weight of our late lunch, we set off to pick up our friend and fellow Dartington Writer Natt and her housemates for a drink. This was a good chance to take in some of the famed Bristolian graffiti. I particularly liked this hipster wolf; he looked as if he was about to spring to life and leap off the side of the tower block.


As my good friend Hannah observed to me yesterday, Bristol is full of foxes. And if there's one thing I love more than soul food or narwhals, it's possibly foxes. We found an interesting street art and zine shop that was selling adorable fox bonnets; here I am modelling one (and one of my new dresses):


Truly, I had found my brethren.


Natt took us to a quirky little cafe at the bottom of her road called The Arts House; it did a lovely glass full of elderflower cordial and floating summer berries. Unfortunately, Pip and I left just before the others were invited to a free face painting workshop; the resulting photographs were mightily impressive. We'd run off to visit our friend Ros and her boyfriend Toby in their new flat, and were treated to stew, and, er, Nineties boyband videos...

Early next morning we left for Bath, where I was convinced all my Jane Austen fantasies were about to come true. But I was brutally rebuffed when we discovered that it was the Pump Room, and not the Assembly Rooms, where one could take afternoon tea in the true Austen style.

While we were at the Assembly Rooms, however, we decided to take a gander at the Fashion Museum (I felt very sorry for Pip by this point).

The current exhibition was of Laura Ashley's famous Seventies frocks. Unfortunately, "famous Seventies frocks" conjures up one thing in my mind; unbearably ugly. Here are a few of the dresses I felt more favourably towards:













Plus some I didn't:


And an exceedingly cute ragdoll made entirely of Laura Ashley fabrics:


Had this been the extent of what the Museum had to offer, I might have been disappointed. However, a more exciting exhibit lay just around the corner; Fifty Fabulous Frocks! Dresses from across the ages, in every conceivable fabric, colour, and pattern.


This champagne bottle dress was a 1910s or 1920s homemade fancy dress costume

I fell in love with this early Twentieth Century dress; it looks so current



Now if only Disney branded garments were this adorable now, I might actually wear them!

This dress was an absolute vision and none of my photographs did it justice


So stately


I believe this coat was 1940s; doesn't it have a 70s vibe?




I was bowled over by the elegance of the 1930s dress on the left, and the unbelievably miniscule corset!



This Twenties number was divine; oh to swish those skirts!




As well as gawping at all the gorgeous dresses, I got to try my hand at designing one myself; it came out looking remarkably like my GCSE Textiles project (with exactly the same colour scheme!)




The next corridor revealed yet more drop-dead-gorgeous dresses; I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Only a candy shop in which no candy would be sold to me. Ever.

Isn't this Betty Draper worthy? It also reminds me of Trudy Campbell's bedwear collection


The flapper dress on the right was perhaps my favourite in the Museum; so many tassels...





This was the look Spring/Summer 2013; Pip quipped: "I didn't know the look for Spring/Summer 2013 was Kate Elisabeth Rolison"
 After we left the Museum we marched, suitcases in tow, down to the Pump Room for our afternoon tea. There'd been a run on vegetarian sandwiches, and so we were lucky enough to be offered a slice of Victoria sponge as an appetiser... well, how could we refuse? It was the lightest Victoria sponge I have ever eaten, and crammed full of cherries. This was followed by delectable finger sandwiches, Devonshire (only the best) cream tea, and petit fours including a raspberry macaroon and passion fruit tartlet, all washed down with a pot of English breakfast tea. As you might have gathered, it was a dream.







We spent our last few hours in Bath wandering around the Crescent, before taking a quick nap on the green in the centre of the Circus. All that walking and eating had worn us out (it's a hard life)!


As we were preparing to leave, Pip turned to me and said "I don't want to go home"; the mark of a good holiday if ever I heard one.