Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flowers, flowers everywhere

You can't escape flowers in Bulgaria. I always receive a bunch of them from the family on arrival, little bouquets are placed in the kitchen and bedroom of our apartment as welcome gifts, my grandfather in law even picked me a little sprig of purple ones when I visited his place this week, "for health", he said. My mother in law brought peonies when she came to babysit just because she saw them blooming and couldn't resist bringing us some. Flowers are sold in steetside stalls, some open 24 hours a day, old ladies from the villages sell them on the footpath to make spare change and the markets sell masses of seedlings. Its spring time here and lots of perennials like pansies and marigolds are being displayed everywhere in restaurant gardens, cafes, public parks and window boxes. Even along the country roads there is a mass of colour from flowers - poppies, dandelions, camomile and thistles to name a few. Gardens in the villages produce a stunning array of fruits and vegetables, and always room is made just for flowers.
To me the bright splashes of flower colour help to brighten the grey city scape that is Sofia, they focus my eye away from what is wrong or broken to the pride and care taken in flower cultivation and display, in giving and receiving. Its the little things sometimes, you know. I hope you enjoy the pictures I took of flowers (and related activities) while on my travels.

I am out of here as of today, going home to Brisbane via Istanbul and Dubai. Trying to take the trip slow and easy, but the jet lag is still going to hurt, I hate travelling east. Goodbye Bulgaria until next time.

Alphabet Tuesday: J is for Jigsaw

OK, lets keep up the excitement and tension that is Alphabet Tuesday. This week is brought to you by the letter J for Jigsaw (not P for Puzzle).

As an added bonus I am going to also include a little bit about how I managed to actually make a fabric jigsaw, because it took some fiddling as a matter of fact.

There were seven pieces on the original panel, and I had two questions so I would know where my starting point with this project was - Do the pieces shown actually make a real connecting jigsaw if you put them together? How big is the completed jigsaw? So I traced all the pieces onto paper and cut them out and "made" the jigsaw. The answers were, "roughly yes" and "about 10cm square".

So I had my jigsaw size and I knew which fabric I was going to raid my stash for. A piece of fun and probably 1970s farmyard print doona cover! And do you think that a 10cm square covered anything interesting on the farmyard design? No not really, the farmyard was too spread out and I was either getting half a cow and a roosters head, or the barn door and the horse's feet in the puddle in front of it or something silly. I finally decided that the best I could do were these two happy children bouncing on their haystack, pitchforks in hand

I fused them onto double sided interfacing (being careful not to ignite their haystack) and then traced around the puzzle pieces onto the paper backing of the interfacing. This technique basically formed as a guide and I had to do some freehand drawing over the top to make the pieces look more balanced in size and proportions.

When I was happy with that I cut out the pieces (very carefully!). And then simply peeled off the paper backing to fuse our happy farmers onto their red cotton background.

So you see, this alphabet thing is sometimes not the doddle it looks.

Happy Tuesday to you!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stitching shoes

Against all reasonable calculations on how much room is available in my suitcase on my return to Australia I couldn't resist buying these red shoes.

They're stitchy, I am in love. Looking forward to wearing these heaps back home.

In Bulgaria they like to congratulate you on a new pair of shoes. They say "may you wear them out in good health".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alphabet Tuesday: I is for Igloo

Phew, I almost raised a sweat thinking I wasn't going to get my igloo sewn before today. I only started putting my ice blocks in place on Sunday, but remaining cool as an Eskimo under pressure it was actually no big deal to make an igloo in an evening.

I did have to put a bit of thought into the construction of my igloo. I ended up fusing on a black background and sewing the wool felt ice blocks over the top of that.

It was only 10 deg in Sofia yesterday so I almost felt like crawling inside!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Handmade paper from Macedonia

I was recently on a long weekend trip to Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. The town of Ohrid on the lake shores is an absolute delight to visit and well worth adding to your travel itenerary if you are ever bumbling around in the Balkans. Its actually a Unesco world heritage site I will have you know.

A hop skip and a jump from our little hotel room was in fact the National Workshop for Handmade Paper. Its just two small rooms that are open everyday to the public where they display and demonstrate their paper making techniques and sell their products of prints, cards, boxes, bags and notebooks etc.

The basic process is soaking of the wood pulp in water for about 30 days (in the tub on the far right). Then the pulp is scooped into a form that looks a bit like a screen printing frame (resting on tub in photo). This allows the water to drain through, leaving the wood fibres behind. To draw out the extra water they press it between two wooden plates for about half an hour (I think this is the apparatus in the middle of the photo). Then the paper is dried in the air for about two days and then because it gets wrinkly with the drying out it is then pressed flat for about twelve hours in the press on the left in the picture. Then its ready for use.

Colour is added to the paper by using extracts from flowers and leaves in the soaking process. They also add gorgeous pressed flowers to some of the finished products.

There you go - no glue, no harsh chemicals, bleaches or harmful waste products. Just lovely thick, soft and creamy paper using a centuries old simple technique.
Photos courtesy of the workshop website.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oooh, haberdashery!

I am pleased to report that the good old haberdashery shop is alive and well in Bulgaria. They are quite small but very compactly and neatly stocked with a huge array of sewing items. This is quite separate to fabric shops, of which I have seen a few and they really are not much to write home about (I even saw one that apparently sold fabric by the kilogram...).

The particular haberdashery shop I visited was called "From Needle to Thread" which in Bulgarian is the same as the expression "from top to toe" in English. Indeed, they did have everything from A to Z, to top to toe in the world of sewing.

The shop didn't look like much from the outside.

But inside, from wall to floor were buttons in boxes (with the button examples sewn to the front of the boxes), walls of threads, rolls of delicate laces, coloured trims, servicable tapes, buckles, tabs, clips, zippers poking their coloured tabs out of yellow boxes and decorative pins shining in the light. All the DMC and Anchor threads were in little pull out draws behind the counter. In fact, most of it was not self serve, you needed to ask, to get permission to look and then chose.

There were beautiful glass top counters with ribbons laid out like displays of coloured sweets and all the little bits of sewing equipment of needles, hoops, thimbles, tapes, cutters, markers....oh my there is too much to name!

For one Lev (about one AUD) I bought a blue measuring tape, made in Turkey, with a pretty funky font on it.

No problems here with going to the shop and the little thing you want being out of stock. Eat your heart out massive commercialised Australian craft chain store...yes, you know who you are!

I didn't have my camera on me, so pictures are courtesy of the shop's website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Alphabet Tuesday: H is for Hammer

Tap, tap, tap - doesn't this look like the nicest little hammer. Nothing like the heavy, paint stained, metal handled with rubber grip variety we have in our toolbox.

This week also reminds me that I need to get cracking on the letter I. I brought it along on our trip with me and haven't had a spare moment to sit down and work on it. Funny that I need to make time on holiday, but thats how it is!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My creative space: where there's a will...

My creative space has been full of improvising this week. Here's the story.

Three days after arriving in Bulgaria we were to attend the wedding of my husband's cousin, Nadya, to her partner Vichren. There was some discussion, planning and shopping for the wedding gift to be given by our side of the family. I have met Nadya several times and I wanted to give her something personally, without being swallowed up by the larger family present and being a name on the communal card.

I didn't have a lot of resources to create a wedding gift, or did I? I had along with me embroidery thread and hoop, needles, pins, scissors and just by chance a cotton placemat my mother gave me the other week. I brought it along as a bit of material to do some stitching on if the mood took me, so I decided to stitch a design on the placemat with the bride and groom's names and the date of their wedding. Good idea, but then my problems began.

To sketch the design I needed a piece of plain paper, couldn't find any in the apartment so I ripped off the bottom of my travel itinerary, found a pencil in my husband's backpack, got the Cyrillic spelling of the names and date off the wedding invitation, and a heart and flowers design from this website

Now to transfer the design I would normally stick everything firmly to a window and trace the design to the fabric. Plenty of windows, plenty of sunshine, no sticky tape. Nothing adhesive at all to be found. So I drew the design as dark as I could on the paper, pinned the placemat to it to keep it all steady, laid it down on the table top and kind of traced/sketched onto the fabric with pencil. I couldn't see the design exactly but I pretty much knew what went where.

Then I got down to work and did the stitching, just backstitch in red. I worked through the evening up to about midnight, and finished it off the morning of the wedding with a dashed border on two sides (to try and distract from the fact that the heart and the names ended up a bit off centre)

The day of the wedding was Sunday and so card and wrap were not easily commercially available. To make it a presentable package I folded the placemat in the cardboard envelope from the wedding inviation, and made a small card from paper that I decorated with hearts using the red crayon from my son's crayon roll. Finally I tied it together with a yellow ribbon taken from a bouquet of flowers from the kitchen.

Nadya was touched and I had a great sense of achievement and satisfaction, the gift was a little bit of me, made with my hands, all the way from Australia.
For more creative space pop on over to Kootoyoo.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


A festival of authentic folklore in Sofia on a beautiful sunny day. Lots of singing and dancing, and costumes of bold colours, geometrics, flowers, birds, embroidery, prints, trims, headscarves...and cozy socks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Have you ever...?

Hemmed a pair of trousers with embroidery thread?

No, I thought not.

Lucky trouser hems on small people are way below the eye sight of anyone but the local pigeons and move so fast they are a blur.

Alphabet Tuesday: G is for Grapes

Alphabet Tuesday is bought to you for the next few weeks from the lovely city of Sofia in Bulgaria. Its late Monday night here and coming into the small early morning hours on Tuesday in Australia. Good morning if you are waking up and reading this.

So as promised, blue food! I actually thought I was going to make these grapes out of some purple seersucker fabric I had, but then when I thought about the colours used in the original frieze there really isn't any purple so I decided to stick with blue. It felt weird to make blue grapes, I wonder if my son will point out this detail because he is very aware of such deviations from normality. Actually, I bet my boots he will notice. I am pretty adept at answering all sorts of curve ball questions from him, I'll have to think hard to explain blue grapes though. Typical.


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