Look at what I made!

This May, when I was in London I visited Liberty, a long-established department store in Regent Street in the West End shopping district.  Liberty is one of my favourite places to shop in the world.

View from Argyll Street

The first shop was opened in 1875  by Arthur Lazenby Liberty, selling ornaments, fabric and objets d’art from Japan and the East.  Within a decade, Liberty became the most fashionable place to shop in London and Liberty fabrics were used for both clothing and furnishings.

In 1884 Liberty introduced the costume department into the Regent Street store, directed by Edward William Godwin (1833–86). Godwin was a distinguished architect and a founding member of the Costume Society in 1882. He and Arthur Liberty created in-house apparel to challenge the fashions of Paris.

This garment with its full sleeves and long, flowing silhouette owes much of its inspiration to Pre-Raphaelite dress. The gown consists of a flared front panel attached to an open, flowing robe which falls from pleats at the back. The front panel has a patch pocket on the right side which is hidden by the deep plush edging.  The puffed sleeves, wide cuffs and velvet edgings are inspired by plain, loose 16th century gowns. The sunflower and pomegranate motif on the fabric was a recurring design on objects associated with the Aesthetic Movement. The subtle gold and brown tones were popular ‘artistic’ colours used in both dress and furnishing fabrics during the 1890s.

Robe, Liberty, Late 1890s, V & A Museum Collection

During the 1890s Arthur Lasenby Liberty built strong relationships with many famous English designers. Many of these designers practised the artistic styles known as Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau, and Arthur Liberty helped develop Art Nouveau through his encouragement of such designers. The company became associated with this new style, to the extent that in Italy, Art Nouveau became known as the Stile Liberty, after the London shop.

The current emporium was designed by Edwin T. Hall and his son Edwin S. Hall. They designed the building at the height of the 1920s fashion for Tudor revival. In 1924 Liberty as we know it today was constructed from the timbers of two ships: HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan. The frontage on Great Marlborough Street is the same length as the Hindustan. It is a Grade II* listed building.

The shop was engineered around three light wells that formed the main focus of the building. Each of these wells was surrounded by smaller rooms to create a homely feel. Many of the rooms had fireplaces and some still exist. The wells created a wonderful environment in which to drape exotic rugs and quilts, whilst the smaller rooms allowed the display of smaller items.

Looking down from the top floor

Everything about Liberty is beautiful.  From the exterior .  .  .  .  .

No minute gone comes back again, Take heed and see ye nothing do in vain.

To the interior and all of the exquisite things for sale.

Looking up to the floor that sells fabric!

Even the lifts have something beautiful to gaze upon.

Lift ceiling, Liberty, London

And the views are special.

Palladium House, 1928

One of my favourite Art Deco buildings in England is Palladium House, also referred to as Ideal House or the National Radiator building. It is a gorgeous black granite clad building, with exotic Moorish-Persian style enamel on bronze polychrome, by the Birmingham Guild of Handicraft. Built in 1928 by Raymond Hood and Gordon Jeeves, it is an exuberant and exotic fantasy, a tantalizing taste of Babylon in London.

Anyhow, I have been wanting to start making clothes (aka wearable art) for a very, very long time.  But to be honest, I’ve had very, very cold feet.   Even though I can undauntedly make the most exquisite pieces of fibre art, I’ve never made an article of clothing!  My Mom and her mother were amazing seamstresses, so perhaps I was a bit intimidated.  Anyhow, in May, I bought some beautiful Liberty fabric to make skirts from.

Two patterns in Tana Lawn flank a silk-cotton blend

I’ve been casting about for a dressmaking class for a few years now, to no avail.  In March, I bought a very simple elastic waist skirt pattern from Meme, a tiny, cute as a button fabric shop in Exeter.  I went in to ask about classes and the owner Katrina suggested I just have a go with a simple pattern.  So I bought one of hers for £3, and some elastic.   I have my 2 sewing machines at home and a Baby Lock Imagine overlocker which my very romantic husband bought me for Valentine’s Day.  (Thank you again, my darling!)

It took me six months to summon up my courage.  So today, which is the first day of my late summer hols, I made my first garment!

I am so proud of it!  I wore it down to the Co-op when I got some wine for dinner.  When Steve rang to say he won’t be home in time for dinner  😦  I said ‘Guess what I made today!” and that I’ll be up and wearing my new skirt when he gets back around 11pm.  It was very quick to make, once I figured out how to thread (and re-thread) my overlocker and figured out which stitch to use (4 thread overlock) for the seam.  That took about 90 minutes!  I also had to translate Katrina’s pattern into Imperial from Metric.  Oh, and discover what seam allowance non-quilters use (3/8″).  I did cut my fabric with a rotary cutter and mat.  This old dog don’t need to learn too many new tricks at once!

So it was tiring, but FUN!  I felt (and feel) such a sense of accomplishment.  I don’t know what the fabric pattern is called though.  It’s not in Liberty’s current Tana Lawn floral fabric collection.  (I bought it on sale.)  The closest I found is this one.

Small Susanna

The fabric is such a perfect design and colour for this time of year.  It’s the last great “Hurrah!” of summertime, with the mellow golds, warm greens and greys, deep blue and a scattering of rich reds of an Indian Summer.  While I was sewing the fabric, I loved noticing all of the little perfect details – the tiny flower petals and stems, stamens and details on the leaves.

Indian Summer

I’m hoping for some Indian Summer days over the next fortnight that I have off.  Tomorrow, I plan to make something wonderful for dinner from these home grown tomatoes I was gifted.   And who knows?  Perhaps another skirt will magically appear!

Info sources –
V&A Museum

Liberty, London

Flags and Food

Tonight’s topic is flags and food.  Timely in the run up to the Moretonhampstead Food, Drink and Arts Festival which is this Saturday, 5th March.  Here we go on a little food tour of places all within a two minute walk from our front door!  And each has their own flag made by local townspeople for Moreton’s first Flag Festival.

The food loving citizens of Moretonhampstead got a nice Christmas present at the end of last year with the opening of Whites Traditional Greengrocers.  They carry all of the humble basics – leeks, potatoes, carrots, etc. as well as ‘off the beaten track’ things such as fresh herbs, Jerusalem artichokes, blood oranges, baby lettuce mix and .  .  .  .  .  chicory??  And if you want anything special, just ask the day before you need it.

Chicory aka Belgian Endive

I know this vegetable as Belgian Endive, although I’ve never eaten or cooked it.

Whites Greengrocers

Apparently, it is a vegetable with many aliases:

Fr: le chicon, endive,  Ge: der Chicorée, der Bleichzichorie, It: la cicoria witloof Sp: la endibia, achicoria de Bruselasla.  Common chicory is also known as blue sailors, succory, and coffeeweed.

Belgian Endive or Witloof (Cichorium intybus) is a torpedo shaped accident that happened in Belgium in 1830.  The head gardener of the Botanical Gardens in Brussels forgot about the roots left covered in soil in the cellar.  He discovered that chicory produced lovely, pale, tight cone shaped heads.  It took another few decades before the growing method was perfected but once introduced to the general public, it became firmly established in Belgian cuisine.

In the summertime, chicory seeds produce a huge, leafy plant.  The  leaves are usually bitter. and appreciated in certain cuisines, such as in the Liguria and Puglia regions of Italy and also in Catalonia (Spain), in Greece and in Turkey.  By cooking and discarding the water the bitterness is reduced, after which the chicory leaves may be sauteed with garlic, anchovies and other ingredients. In this form the resulting greens might be combined with pasta or to accompany meat dishes

Then, in late autumn, the green leafy tops are cut away to within an inch of their crown.  The roots are dug up, buried in a mixture of sand and soil and kept in a cool, dark place.  In about three weeks, stored energy in the roots produces a second growth of leaves that overlap one another, forming torpedo shaped heads.  These are ivory white and very tender with a slight bitterness.  Finally, the root of witloof, once dried and ground was used as a coffee replacement during war times, and is often mixed with coffee for a robust flavour, enhancing the ‘roasted’ taste.

I immediately bought four heads and went home and looked up my Gratin of Belgian Endive recipe from Potager by Georgeanne Brennan.  I promptly went back out and across the street to our butcher, Michael Howard.

As well as carrying a range of locally produced lamb, beef and pork, his shop has a deli counter and a selection of gourmet goods – spices, relishes & chutneys, fancy tinned things.  Great for those last minute scrounges!  I bought a hunk of Gruyère and a package of prosciutto.

Michael Howard’s cheese counter

The flag made for Michael Howards’ is of a pig, waiting to be butchered.

Michael Howard, Butchers and Delicatessan

We are so lucky that he is just across the street from us.  I don’t know their official opening hours, but Michael and the guys usually show up around 6am.  On many occasions, I’ve put a coat on over my PJ’s and gone over for some early morning bacon, a loaf of bread, a jam doughnut and just last weekend I discovered that Saturday is Danish pastry day, custard or apricot usually.  Fresh baked and out of the oven by 6:30.  But if I would like one during the week, I was invited to put in my request the day before!  How cool is that?

We love Michael’s lamb and pork.  He also gets Creedy Carver poultry and for one of our autumn meals, got us a beautifully gorgeous, succulent, delicious free range goose from the South Hams (an area of Devon, NOT a pig farm).  As far as my carnivore husband Steve is concerned, it doesn’t hurt that Michael is also a Liverpool supporter.

On to the gratin.  As I mentioned,  this recipe is from one of my favourite cookbook authors Georgeanne Brennan.  Here she is writing for the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine Newsletter about  .  .  .  .  .  California endive.  So now it has yet another name.

Gratin of Belgian Endive

  • 8 small to medium-sized heads Belgian endive
  • 3½ tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ½ teaspoon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • A big pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Gruyère
  • 4 oz. prosciutto
  • ½ tablespoon black pepper

Steve and I have been watching TV episodes of The French Chef on DVD and one of Julia’s suggestions was to prep and lay out all of your ingredients on a tray before starting a recipe so you can be sure they’re all ready and you don’t leave anything out.  So I did and it was very pretty to look at too.

Still life with food

Since the endives are so tender they don’t need to be blanched, but the recipe (and a couple of places on the internet) said to remove the very bitter core.  I had already trimmed off the root end and this white milk was oozing out of the cut.  I thought I’d try some on the tip of my tongue to see how bitter it is and, boy, is it ever!

I got my very sharp paring knife, made a cross cut about 1″ deep and removed the core.

Then I arranged them in a buttered baking dish.   (I’d halved the recipe)

Then I made the Béchamel sauce by melting 2 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan and mixing in the flour, salt, nutmeg and cayenne pepper until a paste formed.  I heated the milk to nearly a simmer and whisked it in in a steady stream.  This is a trick I picked up from the Fanny Farmer cookbook, it reduces the hazard of lumps.

Stir the sauce for about 10 minutes, until it thickens.  Because I’d halved the recipe, my sauce was coming out very thick, nearly like a choux pastry, so I whisked in some more milk.  One of the advantages of working with metric weights and measures, it is much more accurate to half things.  But my recipe was in American measures and I was feeling too lazy to translate it.  And if you recall, the purpose of cooking this recipe was to help me relax after 2 whole days of studio re-vamp.

The sauce should now be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Then stir in the  cheese and continue to cook only until the cheese has melted into the sauce.  taste and adjust the seasoning.

Now the fun part, the assemblage, begins!

Top the endives with prosciutto.

Spoon over the Béchamel sauce and dot the surface with a tablespoon of butter.

Here is where I parted from the recipe.  Georgeanne suggests ending with just a sprinkle, a mere tablespoon of grated Gruyère.  I don’t know about you all, but one of my favourite ways to eat Gruyère is the browny-almost burnt bits that cling onto the sides of the baking dish after dinner, when I take the dishes back into the kitchen.  So I strewed a small handful fo Gruyère over my gratin, making sure to strategically place some next to the edge of the dish.  Then, into a 375°F/190°C oven for 25 to 30 minutes.

Dessert on the right hand side of the dish!

It was absolutely delicious.  Very tender, slightly bitter endive – the texture reminded me of artichoke hearts,  enrobed in the thick, creamy cheese sauce and the slightly sweet, nutty, chewiness of the meat.   To go with the gratin, I grilled chicken breasts, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper.   I also made some honey roasted baby carrots. Their slight sweetness made a nice foil to the richness of the gratin.

These were very easy.  Just a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a roasting pan.  When it sizzles, add the carrots and then drizzle with two tablespoons of honey.  Back into a hot 375°F/190°C oven for 25 to 30 minutes.   I used English Borage honey, one of the treats in our Fortnum & Mason Epicure Hamper, our food lovers Christmas gift to ourselves.

Finally, here is the flag flying from the small but mighty Co-op supermarket in our town.

Between the three of these fine food shops, and occasional forays into the neighboring towns and villages, Steve and I do quite well, food-wise, in our little town of Moreton.  We only need to visit the big Sainsbury’s in Exeter once every couple of weeks forthings we just can’t find within a stone’s throw of our home.  And at the Food, Drink and Arts Festival coming up this Saturday, we can share out bounty with the world.

More info about Belgian endive/chicory/witloof

Rag Pickin’

Today Steve and I went to the Crediton Farmer’s Market. It’s on the first Saturday of the month and virtually everything at the market has been grown, raised, harvested, baked, cooked, smoked, or processed well within 10 miles of the market site.    It was a bit drizzly so I didn’t get my camera out.  On the way back home, we stopped at Proper Job, a recycling yard in Chagford to drop off some cardboard and paper.  I also sought (and found!) a piece of tempered glass to use as a cutting surface with my new soldering iron.  Our day of foraging didn’t end there.

We saw signs for a Rag Market in Chagford and went to investigate.  Held in the Jubilee Hall, it was stuffed full of stallholders selling vintage hats, clothing, textiles, jewellery and haberdashery supplies.



I met Liz van Hassett aka The Washerwoman and bought some vintage tweed samples in warm autumn colours from her.  At 32″ x 10″ they are just the right size to make some silk lined obis that I’ve had in mind now that the weather is turning cooler.  I get a chilly tummy!  I have some pumpkin, moss and rust coloured dupioni that might do well for the lining and am thinking of either buckled leather straps or grosgrain ribbon to fasten the ends.



I also got this sweet little nursery rhyme hankerchief.


Junk, funky crêpes and a treasure

Steve and I went to Brussels last weekend.  We travelled on Eurostar from St. Pancras International in London and were door to door in two hours.  We breakfasted on fresh croissants, Wiltshire ham, Emmental and mimosas (half fresh orange juice, half champagne). Such a civilised way to travel.

I didn’t have much chocolate, just a decadent, chocolate-enrobed, juicy strawberry from Godiva.  And of course, the obligatory gaufre belge (Belgian waffle), this one purchased in the metro station and slathered with chocolate sauce.


We had some very good meals.  One standout was at La Vilette (Rue du Vieux Marché aux grains 3, 1000 BRUSSELS) where I had medallions of pork cooked with Orval beer and topped with Orval cheese and Steve had rabbit leg cooked with Lambic beer, plus a mountain of frites each.  La Villette serves traditional Belgian cuisine and is a sweet little place with a good atmosphere.  I also had lots of dark Trappist ales – Chimay, Duvel, Westmalle, Orval to name a few.


La Villette

On Saturday we got up early-ish and went to the flea market in the cobblestoned Place de Jeu de Balle, Marolles.


It features a lot of junk unattractively dumped in old cardboard boxes or on blankets, still it’s a lot of fun and good for people watching and finding the occasional bargain.  I bought a copy of  Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi which had come from a used book store La Buena Nota in Costa Rica.



The Life Cycle of the Honeybee



We got caught in a rain shower just before the final row and dived into Chez Mamie (Place de Jeu Balle 14, 1000 BRUSSELS) a tiny, funky corner crêperie with a great vibe and good cheap fast food.


Grégoire cooks up crêpes to order in a place stuffed chock full of art, lingering locals, dogs and passing tourists.




The best seat in the house





A man happy in his work .  .  .  .  .



Crêpe avec le chevre et les épinards

After the rain stopped we went back to the final row of the market and made our first purchase for our new home. A clock identical to one handed down into Steve’s family from his grandparents.  We turned our wallets inside out and got it for €50.   All we’ve been able to find out so far is that it is a German box clock, probably made in the 1920’s.  Not too packable, but we managed to get it back to the UK and we had no excuse to miss our train.


Custard Factory

A cool place in Digbeth is the Custard Factory.

The former Bird’s Custard Factory has been converted into a hive of creative companies, galleries, fine artists, independent shops and restaurants.

I went into Fragile Design, a vintage 20th century design shop in search of some Lucienne Day fabric to cover a couple old wooden chairs that we rescued from a skip and refinished.  This place has everything for the home from the 50’s and 60’s, including some of Day’s fabric, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

Sarah Preisler’s Atelier has a small collection of works (Aug – Sep 2008) by Textile Designer Alison Moger.

Moger takes well used tablecloths and napkins for the starting point in her art pieces.

“All my art pieces have previously been domestic items . . . . .  The tablecloth played a significant role in my childhood and even to this day when I see a tablecloth being thrown open, warm memories come to mind of being brought up in a loving family, having Sunday tea with Grandparents and aunties.  I loved to sit quietly listening to adult conversations whilst running my fingers over beautifully starched linen, memorizing its detail and technique, whilst seeing stories within the textiles, these items are uniquely a human experience and each one will tell a different story.”

Some of them she embroiders with quirky little designs.

This tablecloth was cut into squares and reassembled.

Ideal Skate Shop – a sk8ter and his scooter, a vintage Lambretta

Oh yes, there is also the Custard Factory Sunday Flea Market.  Supposedly, on a good day there are around 50 stalls offering everything from ‘fish to fashion, hand cream to ice cream, bungee jumping (?) to jewellery”.  But this Sunday was a washout, maybe 5 or 6 stalls with some second hand clothes, bric- a-brac and ephemera.  I did pick up another souvenir from Birmingham – a very tiny china jug with the Birmingham coat of arms (from 1936 to 1976) emblazoned on it.

Birmingham – Forward!

Otto’s Back in Town!

This July, Exeter lost one of the coolest independent shops in the Northern Hemisphere – Otto Retro.  But happily, it turned out to be a hiatus and by mid-August, Otto returned better than ever.  The owner Sarah trawls markets, estate sales and God knows where else to bring us the cream of ‘Choice Junk’ and at very reasonable prices too I might add.

I’ve picked up some treasures there over the past couple of years . . . .

My first portable typewriter

Beakers – good for measuring cocktails

most of my Observer’s books

My collection of First Aid Cases

Including my most recent acquisition and the crown jewel of my collection, an “Ingot” All British Complete First Aid Outfit.

With compliments of Dried Milk Products, Ltd.

Iodine Paint & Sting Lotion.  Love the cute little brush!

Sticking plasters

Otto Retro is at 127 Fore Street, Exeter in the West Quarter, a thriving specialist shopping area with plenty of nooks and crannies, and around 60 independents to explore.

With a name literally translating as ‘the street before’ — as in ‘the street before the main road’ — the area between what is now Fore Street and Bartholomew Street was once occupied by Exeter’s earliest inhabitants.  The assorted fishermen, hunters and tradesmen who peopled the city in the days when it was little more than a pre-Roman native settlement are thought to have lived on the lower slopes of the hill, using what is now Fore Street as their main route to the east.

And it’s still the best part of Exeter to hunt down unusual bargains and get away from the chains!