The Secret Turret

There is a magical place near the sunny south west coast of France called Domaine De La Salle. It’s not a showy, shiny chateau with golden chandeliers and shiny wallpaper, it’s so  much better than that, it is authentic and that is something that is becoming harder and harder to find nowadays.

It has one, perfectly perfect turret with steely blue tiles, I never did pluck up the courage to peek inside. Maybe there are owls in there, maybe doves…maybe a long forgotten forlorn princess. The walls are bleached white from centuries of sun and salty air blowing in from the west. Surrounded by woods and acres of countryside, it is quiet and tranquil, the kind of place where normal life seems one hundred years away and owls really do  land on your bedroom window sill.

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It is owned by the most charming and enthusiastic couple, Mariam and Jono who bought the mini-chateau in 2016 and using local craftsmen and artisans, have slowly brought the ‘sleeping beauty’ back to life.

The chateau has recently been featured on the popular TV show ‘Escape to the Chateau DIY’ and you can watch the three episodes that include Domaine de la Salle on Channel 4’s catchup website, look out for Episodes 14, 15 and 16. I even make a sneaky appearance as the very mysterious ‘seamstress’!

These short snapshots of Mariam and Jono’s story only scratch the surface of the hard work that has been put into the building. The authenticity, the eye for detail, the hand painted mural that Mariam has restored in the main entrance and the kitchen tiles that Angel made at Chateau de la Motte Husson from Mariam’s designs.

The details are still being discussed but in late Spring/early Summer Mariam and Jono are once again letting me loose in the attic sewing room. Over three days and two nights the chateau will be filled with stitching and laughter, tea and cake, a trip to purchase antique linen and laces, buttons and petticoats at the nearby brocante, candlelit dinners and fresh local produce based lunches. I am lucky enough to have the wonderful Nicki Franklin of The Stitchery accompanying me, you will see from her website how her use of faded colours is a perfect match with all things chateau.

The weekend’s goal is to sew an heirloom chateau doll, a precious thing to hand down through the generations. We will be using tea stained linen, (time permitting we will do this at the chateau), antique fabrics and laces, old French buttons and all natural wool for the hair and stuffing. We will make a visit to the nearby brocante where you will be able to spend a complimentary voucher on whatever treasures you find for your doll. Nicki will help you embroider a motif or initial onto the doll’s dress all whilst you enjoy the tranquil surroundings, bird song and warm sun as it pours in through the attic sewing room windows, (unless it pours, in which case you can enjoy the gentle patter of summer rain!)

Your accommodation will be in the chateau itself along with a two bedroom gite in the grounds. The rooms are mostly doubles apart from one room that is a twin room. There is also a suite room with living room and also two courtyard rooms.

All meals and drinks will be included so all you have to do is get yourself to the chateau as flights and transfers are not included in the price.

Prices and dates will be released very soon so keep a beady eye on this blog and all my other social media. If you would like to be notified prior to the release or have any questions or queries then please do email me Wilderstitch

The weekend will be limited to eight people, (not including non-stitching partners) to keep the atmosphere magical and intimate.

 

 

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A Cosy Little Workshop

Last month I hosted my first small workshop here at The Wilderness and it was heaven.

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There were four of us in all and that was just how I wanted it for the first one. Cosy, intimate and warm. I lit the fire in the sewing room and laid out the table, which in all honesty is just about my favourite thing in the world to do. I spent hours picking flowers and greenery from our garden and arranging them about the mantle and in pretty jam jars tied up with antique french lace. I baked a cake, it was huge, so much so it made the shelf in the fridge bow…whether this is a good thing in a cake or not is debatable but it seemed to go down very well. There were tiny spiced biscuits shaped like stars and dainty slithers of fruit cake iced with sparkling white icing. Everybody’s place was set with a bundle of fabric tied up with ribbon, a teacup and plate, (nothing matching, of course) and bowls and jars overflowing with vintage buttons, laces, silvery stars and ribbons in wintery hues.

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Admittedly more chatting took place than concentrating on sewing but again, that was what I wanted. People coming together, making friends, swapping Instagram accounts and Facebook pages, meeting new like minded people.

I was incredibly lucky to stumble access Nicki from The Stitchery one fateful day on Instagram and invited her along to the workshop. We’ve since been concocting all sorts of plans for joint workshops with me teaching sewing heirloom dolls and Nicki tutoring how to beautifully embroider their dresses. I very sure we’ll be doing a Chateau next year together, maybe a week long stitching retreat with Brocante trips and walks in the woods thrown in for good measure. I’m currently designing some themed workshops so will post up dates and availability very soon. In the meantime check out Nicki’s website, she runs workshops near Castle Ashby, here in Northamptonshire so if you’re nearby and fancy a good day sewing, you know where to go!

The Wilderness and the countryside around is is completely veiled in Winter now and all her frosty, sparkly beauty. I have few little Snow Deer left in my SHOP if you would like to add some Wilderstitch sparkle to your own Christmas.

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I’m looking forward to a few months of sewing by the fire and making plans for an exciting new year. I hope you all have good things coming this season too.

Erica x

 

Oh, October…

You were incredible!

I want to do it all again. From stitching in a chateau, to lunch in Bordeaux to a book launch in London, it was just great.

I’m back now in my cottage, deep in the middle of Autumn and looking forward to Winter immensely. The woodshed is full, the garden is becoming dormant and the school run is becoming darker. But I haven’t completely forgotten about my escapades to France. The blue door of the Chateau and the golden bricks and petrol blue paintwork of Bordeaux certainly seem to be having an influence on my stitching.

These tiny trouble makers are in my shop at £35 each and come in a box along with the front page news that inspired their creation – Fondue Friday, it was  cheesy blast…no, it really was.

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I’m busy today, preparing for my first workshop being held here at my little 17th Century ironstone cottage. The theme is Winter Woodland and we will be stitching an array of bunnies, foxes, deer and maybe a mouse.

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There will be more course coming soon…maybe a chateau dolly and her forest companion? Who knows…

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Erica xx

The Magic Buttons

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Many autumns ago, before my daughter was even one year old, I knew an old lady. She had the look of someone who had led a life less ordinary – her hair tied up in a tidy chignon, sparkling earrings dangling about her face like crystal chandeliers, smoky eyes, a slip of pink lipstick, a purple fur coat.

“Allez-y, allez-y”, she would say in her husky voice as she shuffled her satin slippers over the floor of her brocante, setting down a lit cigarette in the ashtray by the shop entrance before picking up another she had lit minutes earlier further inside.

Glass cabinets full of curiosities welcomed you as you entered the grotto shop, a natural cavity in the walls of the cliff face that surrounded the little town. Tin boxes full of ancient sewing needles, nibs for pens, perfume bottles with labels peeling, post cards from the war, plastic flowers, embroidered handkerchieves, reams of antique lace, one white, leather child’s glove, candle sticks, oil paintings of flowers, bundles of silver cutlery, doll’s heads.

I would follow her deeper inside the cave as the bright sunlight from outside was replaced by ornate lanterns and bare lightbulbs hanging from wires. I would breath in her smoke, I would smell the rosé on her breath. I loved every moment I ever spent in that shop with her.

She seemed to know me well and would open heavy drawers and, as if by magic, present me with exactly what I didn’t know I needed. She had a knack for finding the perfect piece of lace, the perfect remnant of fabric, the perfect tea cup and saucer, a box of buttons, a knack I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to have been privileged to have been the recipient. She bewitched me, and never once did she charge a single cent more than anything was worth.

But how much is a box of buttons worth?

Fast forward ten years and I find myself again in France, not in a cave but in a beautiful Chateau surrounded by woodland full of boar, owls, deer.

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Maybe, like in those fairytales where foolish boys are tricked into buying beans, the buttons that I bought from the old lady in the cave were magic. Or maybe, we make our own magic, whether we have all the silver and gold in the world, or just a box of old buttons.

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I’m frustratingly bound from telling too much about my visit to the chateau where I held my sewing workshop until early next year, but I can tell you that if you are looking for a magical experience, with good food, good wine and wonderful hosts then I know a place…

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If you enjoy sewing and would like to create something magical, be it an heirloom chateau doll, a sugar plum mouse or a woodland creature inspired by the surrounding forests, then keep a beady eye on my blog.

Whether a weekend, or a week long relaxing sewing retreat, you will enjoy excellent food, tea, cake and all hosted in the beautiful setting of a very special little chateau.IMG_4580DSC_0493IMG_4952IMG_4953

 

Oh…and case you were wondering, I found another lady who was willing to sell me some buttons…who knows what this batch will bring!

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A Walk and a ‘wee pie’

Tonight is going to be all about lists. A list for my workshop in a few weeks time. A list of deadlines needing to be met for my books. A list of things to be fixed/painted/cleaned/saved from falling down in our ancient house. I may have accidentally bought myself a lovely new Moleskine diary to categorise and compartmentalise my life…but despite the huge and sometimes overwhelming amount of things to shape up, there is usually enough time to get it all done. Just.

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The only thing I don’t always manage is a good bit of exercise, and today I have run out of daylight. There are no street lights in our village so a quick run might be a little hazardous, plus I’ve heard rumours of a large dog that roams the lanes at night. Some say it’s a pet from the village, some say it’s an escaped hound, I have my suspicions it’s an enormous badger, (Mr Nick has seen one running down the road), but in any instance, I’m not taking any chances.

So back to the ‘wee pie’.

Autumn, for me, and I know many, many other people is a magical season. I adore it. So when we had a visit from Uncle James I saw the perfect opportunity for my favourite autumnal activity – a walk, and a hearty lunch, in this instance, a ‘wee pie’. I saw this recipe on one of my favourite chef’s blog, Mimi Thorisson, and you can find the link at the bottom of this post. She described it as ‘the woods on a plate’ and I couldn’t agree more. The only change I made was to add a few walnuts and capers. Uncle James renamed it ‘the wee pie’, (your royalties are in the post, Jim).

 

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And now, after what turned out to be a longer and more busy day than anticipated, (last minute drop off at birthday party, hospital visit, changing a girl mouse into a boy mouse, pastry disaster), I am now sitting down to plan next week’s chaos.

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Have a good week all, and you can check out the recipe here – pie recipe

 

Erica xx

The Wilderness

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Isn’t it funny how life sometimes gives you what you need, not want you want, and then you realise that what you needed was actually what you wanted? Not in the way, you understand, that people say – “I told you so”, or –  “It’s for the best”. I mean when you really, really just find something out of the blue that you were in no way expecting, and then that thing leads onto many other things you dreamt of? I suppose it’s a bit like someone took all my carefully written out plans, tore them up into one hundred pieces, then taped them all back together again in a completely different, but better order.

This is exactly what happened just over a year ago, in spring. We had been looking for a house to buy in England after deciding not to move to France, and had set our sights on the north Cotswolds. We’d been looking for ever and visited a few ‘perhaps’ houses, but nothing that seemed to embrace us. Just when I was feeling completely deflated, Mr Nick rang me from work.

“I’ve found a house for us to look at”.

“Where is it?”

“South Northamptonshire”

I agreed to meet him and the agent there at 5pm, I wasn’t overly excited as I thought I’d seen all of Northamptonshire having lived here for nearly twenty years, but I was curious. I piled the children, and enough bananas to tide them over until dinner time into the car, and set off. Suddenly the roads became narrower, the countryside hillier and more dense with trees, I saw buzzards, I felt a twang of excitement. I turned the car right into the village, driving down a steep hill lined with ironstone cottages and ancient trees, then left to the church where I parked. A short walk later and we were there, looking up at a centuries old house, paintwork peeling and crumbly walls lined with hollyhocks about to burst into bloom. And I knew. Instantly.  This was going to be our house. The Wilderness.

But there were other people there. The agent had arranged a multiple viewing and I immediately knew from the feeling in my stomach that this was the house I could not lose. We made an offer the following day, and it was accepted. Over a year passed by, there were various legal problems which needed sorting out, but eventually, last month, we moved in.

Now a year in a small village is a long time, and while the house lay empty , waiting for our arrival, rumours had been swirling about who the new occupants would be. Village folk were watching for lights glowing from within once again, watching to see if any windows had been unlatched, different cars, some had heard it was to be a family, but how big, how many children? Within hours of our arrival there were welcome cards plopping through the letter box, flowers from gardens, boxes of eggs, suggestions for playgroups in the area, and an invite to the annual village ‘cook out’ where a rather impressive piece of beef was to be spit roasted outside our front door!

We’re still unpacking boxes, but we have the essential things in place, sort of. I’ve nested very well into my sewing room and have been busy planning a very exciting event that is to take place next month at a Chateau in France. I will be hosting a ‘Vintage Sewing Tea Party’ over two days. The theme is to be ‘Sugar Plum Chateau’ and I will be demonstrating how to make two mice, a boy and a girl, both ballet dancers, both decked out in shades of plum and silvery lilac. There will be cake, and lots of hot tea, there will be piles of antique french lace and reams of ribbon. There will be yards of Tulle in the softest grey and an array of extra accessories to sew or knit if you have extra time, such as mittens and hats, warm coats and scarves, anything a prima ballet dancer would need walking out of the stage door into the cold Parisian night. This particular course is full, but I am planning more events soon so feel free to contact me for details.

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I must close now, as I have to design a pattern for a mousey cape, (these mousey ballet dancers only want the most up to date fashions), and there are a million things to organise for a Vintage Sewing Tea Party at a Chateau!

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Goodnight,

Erica x

 

Roses and Chateaux

 

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I love old things, I always, always have. When I was a child, we used to go on holiday to France. We would travel from our home in Northern Ireland all the way down through Wales and England, always stopping off at Grandpa Bob’s house in Dorset overnight before catching the ferry across the channel. I distinctly remember looking at the pretty thatched cottages as we drove through the Dorset villages and thinking to myself that I would live in a house like that when I grew up. Of course in France I discovered the beautiful chateaux and visited ALL OF THE CHATEAUX, (read – not another chateau!) on various school trips, but they didn’t really have the same impact on me as all the old, crumbling buildings that you would see from the car or coach window. I wanted to live in something distinctly ‘crumbly’. That was until I discovered that not all chateaux are as grand and shiny as those you pay to visit, (I could happily live in a crumbly chateau, no problem at all). A certain T.V. show has brought these beautiful faded buildings to the attention of the masses who, including me, dream of having a perfectly imperfect chateau of their own.

So one day, after being inspired by the overgrown rose gardens and bleached floral wallpaper of my previous night’s viewing, the Chateau Ballet Mice were born.

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All the fabrics and wool that I chose for the mice were just that perfect shade of colour, not too vibrant, not too drab, just perfectly ‘chateau’. I even hand aged much of the fabric and ribbon myself if it didn’t look like it had been in a turret attic for 100 years.

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I would love to teach like minded sewing chateau fans out there how to make these  mice, maybe even in a chateau…but that’s another story for another time.

Erica x

Two counties, a windy day and much mousin’

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“What do you want to do today?” asked Mr. Nick one Saturday morning a few weeks ago.

Now normally when I’m asked this question I never really have an answer, I’m usually happiest when I’m at home, just hanging out with my little family and squeezing in as much knitting and sewing as I’m allowed before I have to feed someone or change a nappy. However, this Saturday morning was different. I had it set in my head that I wanted to go to a haberdashery I had seen on the internet. The haberdashery was in Oxfordshire, a quick hop over the county border and the description online had enchanted me. Mason’s in Abingdon is a family run business with three shops in the town and I was intrigued. After a huge amount of grumbling from everybody I finally got my way and we set off on my mini adventure.

As we arrived the weather turned. It was cold, it was windy and our first impression of Abingdon was the concrete multi-storey carpark. No one was impressed, I felt guilty for dragging everyone along. We decided to buy sandwiches, to save the pennies. There was bickering, nobody liked any of the sandwiches on offer. The day was turning out to be a bit of a disaster!

But as we turned the corner out of the chain shop lined pedestrianised drag we heard bells…and music….

I’m not sure if this happens every weekend in Abingdon but there were Morris Men everywhere…scores of them…I’ve never seen so many.

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Abingdon was delightful with lots of beautiful independent shops, restaurants and cafes.

Things were looking up but it was still so cold, so we decided to find Mason’s. I was not disappointed. Everything about it was just as I had imagined. The building itself was so authentically beautiful and there was even a crate of buttons outside, perfect to deeply sink your hand into. The building was bought in 1939 by the Mason family and it was heaven inside. No frills. No fancy display cabinets or lighting. It was just so genuine and had everything you could possibly ever need or want.

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I’ve since found out that they have a wool shop in the town too. Probably for the best I didn’t know this at the time…I have a bit of a wool addiction.

So we left Abingdon and headed back to Northamptonshire but somehow via Buckinghamshire. Although it was cold and overcast, the scenery was so moody and atmospheric. The trees were fully dressed and at their freshest, and as the wind blew it lifted the leaves to show their paler underbellies. We found a quirky little village so decided to stop and take some photos, I just wish I’ d brought our coats.

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So, May and early June have been spent meeting my work deadlines. I have a book coming out in October – “Veronica Twitch, The Fabulous Witch”.11

My stitching has returned to a rather mousey theme lately. My shop seems to be full of mice and there are more to come. I just can’t stop making mice…another terrible addiction.

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Until next time…

Erica x

 

 

How To Snuffle Your Truffles

It’s hard to know where to start when writing a brand new blog so I’ll begin by telling you that I have just finished a bowl of hot, cassoulet soup and am watching out of the window of our tiny cottage, waiting for the snow to arrive. My ginger cat George is asleep by my side and my baby boy, Samuel Winter is dozing upstairs and all is quiet. I may do some laundry, quietly of course so as not to wake the baby, plan dinner and then walk up the hill to collect my daughter from school. This evening when the children are in bed I will sew, knit or draw and make new plans and dreams for the future. I will snuffle out some new truffles.

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You see, this time last year I had imagined a very different sort of day for the 26th February 2018. We had sold our house in the village and moved into this tiny cottage two doors down temporarily. Myself, my husband Mr Nick, Sienna, a four week old Samuel and George the cat, all squeezed in with most of our belongings put into storage. It was from here that our big adventure was to begin…

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For many, many years our plan had been to move to the Perigord Vert in Southwest France. As a writer and illustrator of children’s books I could work anywhere with an internet connection and we planned to run gites and crafting retreats as teaching people to be creative had always been a dream and a passion of mine. Mr Nick would do the renovations and I would be able to blossom creatively and the children would grow up enjoying the outdoor life and benefiting from everything that France had to offer. We could hunt for truffles with our pet pig. You get the picture.

And then everything just disintegrated. Our dreams fell apart and I don’t know why. I was sad for a long time. Mr Nick was sad for a long time.

So that is all I’ll say about that. Those dreams have gone now but with the help of this blog we will find new ones. We will snuffle out some new truffles.

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All this has made me very grateful for everything that I have. I have the three most special people with me every day, all be it in the tiniest cottage imaginable.

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As I mentioned there is some cold weather on its way and I am looking forward to hankering down with my fabric and my wool and creating, just as I had planned to do in France. Who knows, maybe I will find a way of running those courses one day, just not as the original story was written. Whatever happens I’m so excited to be able to share my creations and see what the next chapter holds.

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It seemed fitting to begin by craft blog with a nod to France and her famous forest friends. I think I will call them Bertrand and Beatrice the Boars. You’ll see from my sketch book that I have some more woodland creatures planned and in my next post I hope to share a pattern so you can make a truffle snuffler of your own.

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I hope that you will follow us on our new adventures, whatever they may be. Please do say hello in the comments if you would like to.

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Erica

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