Category Archives: Decorating

Close to nature

Where do I begin? I suppose where I left off. Camp pickup two weekends ago was uneventful. I was one of the first parents there, and O was standing at the door of his cabin waiting for me. 🙂 Hugs all around. He had a great time and really liked his counselors; his only complaint was “too much swimming.” My boy is not fond of being in water, never has been. Most of his local friends were on vacation by the time he returned home, which actually worked out as it gave him some time to decompress from camp. Most of them are coming home this weekend, so this week Mom’s Taxi Service will be at full gear until O leaves for Texas next week.

Summer has been pretty quiet, which I like. Lots of slow, hot days filled with nothing but time. O thinks it’s going by too quickly, and now that I look at the calendar and realize that August is this weekend, I suppose he’s right.

OK, so moving on to the exciting bits. This week I went to make muffins and when I pulled the tin out of stove drawer, I noticed mouse droppings. Ewwww. Before you think I’m a terrible housekeeper, please note that our house is older and has lots of nooks, crannies, and holes that critters just love. I’m not frightened of mice–they’re kind of cute, actually–but I don’t want them around my food, so I had to put out a trap. The next morning, I found the little guy behind the stove. No more have been caught so I’m hoping we had one errant mouse in the house. The rest of the week I spent decontaminating our stove and the areas around it.

Then late last night I was sitting on the sofa when I noticed a noise coming from the living room coat closet. The door was cracked, and boom — out flew a BAT!!!! I feel much differently about bats than I do mice … you should have seen me bolt upstairs, screaming for my husband who was already in bed. Poor guy was sound asleep, but he knows how freaked out I am around bats due to some unfortunate childhood bat experiences while living in an old house in Vermont. He and O did some research on the computers upstairs to figure out the best way to get the bat outside, then they ventured downstairs to find the unwanted guest lurking behind the living room drapes. When they tried to scoop the bat into a box, he flew across the room and landed at the top of a bookshelf. By then the bat (and the boys) was tired enough that the second scoop went more smoothly and the errant visitor was released into the night. Shudder. We’ve had a long-standing wildlife removal appointment scheduled for this Tuesday, and I cannot WAIT to have these bats gone from our attic. And while last night’s bat visitation terrified me, I’m glad I saw from where it emerged because now we know where we have an exit hole into the house.

Yes, I’m a total wimp when it comes to certain species of wildlife in my house. I own my wimpiness. 😉


Lots of sewing going on this summer in my studio. I now feel very comfortable with my new sewing machine, the Baby Lock Melody. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a flat felling presser foot for it through my local dealer and just about keeled over when I got the bill for it, almost $25. Ouch! So I decided to order one of those 32-piece presser foot collections from Amazon, along with a ruffler attachment. I paid a little over what I paid for the one foot through my dealer, so I figured if a few of the presser feet worked, I’d be ahead of the game, esp. the ruffler, which is pricey.

We have Amazon Prime, so everything got here quickly. The ruffler was easy to install and worked beautifully. The 32 presser feet came in a sturdy cardboard box and every foot was labeled on the front so I knew what each one would do. The feet are all metal with a few understandable exceptions, such as the teflon foot for sewing leather and vinyl. Last night I used the piping/welting foot to install piping around a mixer stand cover I made for out kitchen:

KitchenAid mixer coverKitchenAid mixer cover, close up


I was very happy with how the piping came out especially as it was my first try. I used instructions from to put this together, but ended up using my own measurements for the pattern. I added an outer pocket (which I tried to pattern match and you can see in the bottom photo) to hold the flat beater attachments, and created a lining with fabric from an old cotton Jacquard drape. All in all, I’m quite happy with it although I may make another just to improve on my design. 🙂

I finished the Pebble Beach shawl, which is blocked and ready to go. It has been so hot, though, that the thought of posing with a merino wool shawl draped over my shoulders … ugh. I’ll do a separate post on the shawl when it cools off.

What are you working on this summer?


Spring break begins at Chez Hail Britannia

After what can best be called a craptacular two weeks, I’m eagerly anticipating next week’s spring break.

  • No two-way drives back and forth to school.
  • No dealing with my son’s anxiety during those drives to school. (Long story. I’ll fill you in when the school year has ended.)
  • Sleeping in without an alarm clock.
  • Several scheduled playdates, which means I get a couple hours to relinquish my CEO title. That’s Chief Entertainment Officer.
  • A week where I have only one thing due for work — and I’m pretty sure I can finish it tonight.

Anyway, because of above-mentioned craptacular two weeks, I haven’t gotten much done around here. I did manage to knit my way down the bottom of my Simplest sweater, despite not listening to the nagging voice in my head that said the yarn was all wrong for it. It was only until I tried it on that I discovered I knitted about 3″ too much and the hem was hitting my hips most unflatteringly. To top it off, the bust was too loose. So tonight it’ll be paying a visit to the frog pond.

Sort of looks like a sleeveless haircloth shirt, doesn't it?

My latest pair of socks have been more successful. Here, I’m just finishing up the gusset and ready to start knitting down the foot. That yarn, btw, is the much coveted Trekking XXL in Brach’s Candy/#126, which I picked up a couple weeks ago at Hub Mills in Billerica. I’ve been searching for this colorway for eons, and was pleased to find it in my own backyard!

Candy socks. Yummy!

And then lastly, a cowl pattern I started on the spur of the moment, something to reduce my stash.

This one’s called “A Very Braidy Cowl.” I’m loving it, except that I have no idea why I’m knitting it on straight needles. I’ll probably finish this and give as a gift. Unless it looks good on me. Ignore that dirty fingernail — I spent the morning planting shallots and weeding the peas, and that’s my excuse.

So what are you doing for spring break? Whatever it is, I hope you’re doing it where it’s sunny and warm.



Director chair covers and a bookcase paint job

From this:

Director chair - before

To this:

Director's Chair - after

I’ve had two director chairs gathering dust around the house. The hot pink (??) covers were faded and ugly, and when I went out to price the cost for new covers, I realized I’d be out $40 for something halfway decent. Since I’m pretty handy with my sewing machine, I decided to make new covers. I bought a yard of bright yellow cotton duck at Joann’s for about $5.50 (after using a 50% off coupon), which was more than enough fabric for two chairs.  I carefully picked apart a set of the pink covers and measured seam allowances/fold lines, then used the deconstructed covers as templates/patterns for the new covers. It took me less than an hour of cutting and sewing, and I dare say, they look as good — maybe even nicer! — than the ones I saw for $20 elsewhere.

Then we had this unfinished bookshelf that I used in my old pantry to store canned goods and kitchen equipment. I forgot to take a “before” photo, but here’s the “after.” We’re using this on the other side of the livingroom to hold my son’s books, Legos, and other belongings:

Bookcase redo

I think my husband is rather horrified with my color choices of late: tangerine orange, lime green, daffodil yellow. But I love the play of bright colors against neutrals like cream and gray. Wait till I do my dining room reveal in a couple weeks!

What I’ve been reading (and a giveaway)

My right hand has been giving me some trouble (too much knitting?), so I’ve been catching up on my reading while giving my poor hands a break.

First up is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, a book I’ve had on my Goodreads list for a long while. If you’re the type of person who walks into a friend’s home and studies her bookshelf for clues about who she really is, you’ll like this book. Hill, the author of the The Woman in Black (yes, the scary film starring Daniel Radcliffe is based upon it), decided to spend a year reacquainting herself with her personal book collection rather than shopping for new books. Hill is a lovely, evocative writer; my only quibble —  keeping in mind that I haven’t yet finished the book — is that it reads more like a book of essays than a flowing narrative, which I’d prefer. On the other hand, since I find myself dipping into the book in the few short minutes I have reading in bed, I can get through a chapter and know that when I pick up the book again, I won’t have to backtrack to pick up. I’ve found myself making mental notes of books I’d like to read or re-read: Great Expectations, Enid Blyton’s children’s books, and yes, The Woman in Black since I don’t like watching ghost stories on film (too scary!).

I’ve written here about my enjoyment of Jane Brocket’s The Gentle Art of Domesticity. It’s a book where I like looking the pictures more than reading the text: Brocket has a habit of dropping reference to her advanced degrees that I find a little offputting. I got to the point where I said to the book, “I get it! You’re educated! Give it a break!” She reminds me of a friend who cannot get through a conversation without mention of her Ivy League degree.

But I digress. So if you’re like me and like Brocket’s book sans copy or you hated Brocket’s book, you might like the book I picked up last week called Homemade: 101 Beautiful and Useful Craft Projects You Can Make at Home by Ros Badger and (the late) Elspeth Thompson. The book is set up by seasons, which I love, and most of the projects can be completed with found objects around the house. There are recipes (elderflower cordial, spicy chutney, pumpkin soup), as well as simple knitting projects and even household fix-its, like instructions on how to restore garden furniture, create planters, and build a pebble garden. But what I really love about this book is that none of the projects have that “cutesy” look I detest in so many modern-day craft books. Everything looks stylish, but organic if that makes sense. It’s the kind of book I can flip through to give me inspiration on decorating my home on a tight budget. For example, we have some dreadfully ugly floor registers. My hope was to replace them with some brass registers but they’re prohibitively expensive. While glancing through Homemade, I got the idea to clean them and give them a good coating of spray paint. I was going to do them in an antiqued brass, but decided to paint them glossy black to match the thresholds. I just finished the project this a.m., and while the registers don’t look as pretty as brass ones would, they’re 1000% better looking with a coat of paint.

Last week the publisher of The Real Elizabeth by journalist Andrew Marr sent me a couple review copies. I’ve been itching to read this biography as I’ve heard that the Queen gave many of her staff and intimates permission to talk to Marr as he researched the book. I’ve also read excerpts on the web, which piqued my interest in Elizabeth’s 60-year-reign as Britain’s monarch. Last week marked the beginning of her jubilee year so in celebration, I’m giving my other copy of The Real Elizabeth away to one lucky Hail Britannia reader. All you have to do is tell me, in the comments below, what you admire about the Queen … even if it’s just her corgis. I’m sorry but with this giveaway, I can only ship to addresses in the U.S. or Canada. The giveaway closes on Friday, February 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. ET, and I’ll draw a name at random early next week. Good luck … and thanks for entering!

Keep calm and carry yarn

My love of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” theme is well documented here on the blog, although I must admit some growing ambivalence over the last few months as the artwork has become ubiquitous: mugs, tea towels, light switches … what next? Toilet paper?

That said, I adore these knitting bags from Etsy shop Jenniegee, Perfect for my summer sweater and sock projects and an apropos slogan in that I knit to relieve anxiety. She also offers the slogan on posters … hmm, maybe one for the knitting nook I hope to develop in our new house.


Knitting the Union Jack

Whenever I travel, I like to bring something home with that nation’s national flag on it. I guess I have this thing for flags. To wit: my writer friend Alison can attest to my excitement finding a roadside stand in southern India covered in hundreds of cheerful red communist flags.  That said, I’m not one of those yee-haw Americans who goes around waving the red, white, and blue every chance I get, although I do think the American flag is a thing of beauty and the national flag I find most aesthetically pleasing. (Ok, so I’m biased. Throw tomatoes.)

The Union Jack is my second favorite flag, naturally, and I get excited whenever I see it on a pillow, poster, bunting, or dress. Unfortunately, these pieces are usually fairly expensive — some of the Union Jack pillows I’ve seen are close to $500! — so I’ve been thinking about making one myself, and indeed, just found a pattern for a Cath Kidston-like one in last month’s issue of the British craft mag, Sew Hip. (Photos of completed project TK.)

But what I’d really love to make is this sweater-dress from British yarn company, Rowan. They’ve done theirs in gray, but I’d go all-out crazy-Anglophile on this and knit it in dark blue. (Right now, they’ve only got the pattern for the scarf, which is probably more within my skill level, but whatever.) They’ve also had a pattern up for a knitted Union Jack pillow. The key is to keep checking back every couple days because they switch things around.

The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking by Jane Brocket

Last week I blogged about my obsession with British writer and crafter Jane Brocket‘s book The Gentle Art of Domesticity. I’ve just learned that she has a new book coming out — it’s already out in the UK! — called The Gentle Art of Quiltmaking: 15 Projects Inspired by Everyday Beauty. It looks like it’ll be released the second week in May.

I’m a novice quilter, but I’m much more confident with a needle and thread (or sewing machine) over a pair of knitting needles. And even if the projects are above my skill level, I’m sure I’ll love looking at the pictures; one thing I love about The Gentle Art of Domesticity (and Jane’s blog) are all the photos of flowers, food, and fabric. Yummy!

So this and Elizabeth George’s latest Inspector Lynley mystery in one month. So much to read, so little time. What’s on your Anglophile reading list this spring?

The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

Last month I wrote a blog for The Atlantic‘s Food Channel about my obsession with British cookbooks and the best places to cookbook shop in London. One of the blog’s readers suggested that I might want to get my hands on a book called Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket. In here I’d find dozens of recipes from classic British storybooks. Unfortunately, the book is hard to get here in the U.S., and since I don’t have a lot of extra money right now for, I located another book Brocket wrote, The Gentle Art of Domesticity: Stitching, Baking, Nature, Art & the Comforts of Home at our local library.

I’ve renewed it twice, and now the library wants it back so I see I’m going to have to buy it for my personal library. It has been the prescription I needed to get me through cleaning and packing our home for our move. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover, but instead, dip into it during the day between scrubbing bathroom floors and packing books. What I like most about it are the photos: Brocket is an avid knitter, crocheter, and quilter (and blogger!), so there are dozens of colorful pictures of her handiwork. The book also includes recipes, lists of novels and movies that celebrate domesticity, and even an extensive list of sources for quilters, bakers, and “haberdashers” that covers not just the U.S. and U.K., but countries all around the world. The book is a wee bit aspirational for me, except for the baking and maybe some simple quilting projects, but hey, an Anglophile can dream.

Keep calm and carry on. Or not.

keep_calm_carry_onI’ve mentioned my love of the Keep Calm and Carry On posters in the past and have kept my eyes open for the spoofs now that the posters have become ubiquitous. Some of my new favorites:


Keep calm and rock on $25.99.


Now Panic and Freak Out $15

More parodies here. I want the Now Panic and Freak Out on a coffee mug!