Because life’s celebrations shouldn’t cost the Earth

Monday, 5 August 2019

Glorious Gdańsk

Poles Apart!

Poland first stole our hearts during our 2014 visit to Krakow and our affection only deepened with a trip to Warsaw last summer, which I unfortunately failed to find time to post the pictures from!

We have now just returned from Gdańsk and will be sampling the pleasures of Wrocław before the end of summer.  Knowing we had at least two Polish breaks planned for 2019, I set myself the target of learning some of the language but, even with daily practise, I am still finding it rather difficult!

Gdańsk is a stunningly beautiful city which, due to its strategic position on the Baltic coast, became a pivotal part of the Hanseatic League. The wealth and architecture of this era is still very much in evidence and this, combined with the knowledge of the terrible suffering Poland endured during WWII and subsequent Soviet era, makes the city a very thought-provoking and unique destination.  

We stayed in the Radisson Blu hotel which is situated in the heart of the old town on Dlugi Targ (Long Market Street) so we could literally fall out of the hotel and be surrounded by elegance at each and every turn!

Dlugi Targ is also known as the 'Royal Way' as it was the route taken into the city during processions by Polish monarchs.  Unlike Krakow and other Polish towns, Gdańsk does not have a main market square so this pedestrianised street is the social and commercial heart of the city.  The picture below shows us wandering towards the Złota Brama (Golden Gate).

One of the most famous sights in Gdańsk is the Crane, a magnificent symbol of the city’s trading heritage.  It was once the biggest working crane in the world, and was entirely powered by men walking inside its huge internal wooden wheels!

The Crane was 80% destroyed in 1945 during the Battle for Gdańsk but was later rebuilt and now houses the Polish Maritime Museum.  The ship on the opposite side of the river Motława is the Sołdek, the first steamship built in Polish Gdańsk after 1945 in what was to become the Lenin Shipyards.

A wander along the river banks also takes in some of Gdańsk's more modern sights including the new pedestrian swing bridge (pictured in the 'raised' position below), the Polish Philharmonic Hall, and iconic Gdańsk sign.

Our weekend in Gdańsk coincided with St. Dominic's Fair, the largest event in the city's cultural calendar, which attracts between 6 and 8 million visitors annually.  It dates back over 750 years having been established by Pope Alexander IV in 1260, when attending the Fair's pardon mass promised to cut your stay in purgatory by 100 days!

The streets were packed with musicians and entertainers along with over 1,000 stalls offering handicrafts and traditional Polish delicacies such pierogi (dumplings), bigos (hunter's stew) and golonka (stewed pork knuckle).

We loved the carnival atmosphere generated by hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets!  The revelry continued well into the evenings and you can get an idea of the crowds in this picture of my husband taken at dusk looking towards the beautiful 16th century Town Hall. 

The throng made getting pictures of some of Gdańsk's most famous sights difficult, we wanted one showing the full view of Neptune's Fountain but the sheer numbers present ruled this out.  Instead my son captured this shot at sun down, complete with a balloon seller's Minion themed wares!

For many of us Gdańsk is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Solidarity, the trade union formed by Lech Wałęsa, which would ultimately prove to be the catalyst for the fall of communism in Poland and in the rest of the former Soviet Bloc.

A gentle stroll along the banks of the Motława took us to the shipyards and the European Solidarity Centre, an immense building housing a museum and library dedicated to the history of Solidarity.  

The huge rust coloured walls dominate the skyline and were designed to evoke memories of the hulls of the ships built by the workers at the shipyards.

The inside of the building was equally impressive, with five floors and a viewing platform to explore.

The museum tells the story of Poland's struggle against the Soviet occupation, in which one of the pivotal moments was the signing of The Gdańsk Agreement. 

This event took place on 31 August 1980, with Lech Wałęsa using a giant commemorative ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of the then newly elected Pope John Paul II!

Just outside the centre is the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers, a 139 tonne steel tribute to those who lost their lives in the struggle for democracy.  Lech Wałęsa described it as harpoons “driven through the body of a whale. No matter how hard the whale struggles, it can never get rid of it.” 

I attempted to photograph my son, dwarfed by its 42 metre towering height, in order to give you just a small sense of its sheer scale.

After an enjoyable afternoon of culture and learning we made our way back to the old town, where we were more than happy to indulge in a local Polish beer or two!

Even Gdańsk's side streets are set up for café culture, with numerous picturesque little places to sit and enjoy a quiet moment of contemplation as evening fell.

Then, when we passed the same spot the next day, I suddenly noticed a sign on the neighbouring store and attempted to impress the kids by being able to translate it as 'Mother and Daughter'.  Whilst they were not blown away by my linguistic skills we did at least get a quick picture!

On the Sunday of our visit we left the hustle and bustle of Gdańsk behind and headed for the nearby resort of Sopot.  This gorgeous gem is sometimes referred to as 'Poland's Riviera' and it certainly lived up to its reputation with mile upon mile of soft golden beaches.

Sopot's lighthouse is seen below however it is actually really a clever disguise, built in 1904, hiding the chimney for the boiler which heated the waters at the local Spa!

The lighthouse(!) is situated next to Sopot's wooden pier which stretches 511 metres into the Baltic Sea and is the longest wooden pier in Europe (quick trivia, England's Southend-on-Sea is the longest overall!). 

In its heyday Sopot entertained such notable guests as Charles de Gaulle, Fidel Castro, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, we too fell completely in love with its gentle elegance and charm!

We are now excitedly awaiting our trip to Wrocław later this month, which like Warsaw and Gdańsk was almost totally destroyed during WWII but rebuilt to arise like a phoenix from the ashes.

I am also looking forward to practising more of my Polish.  The locals are so kind and appreciative of my dreadful efforts.  In fact, after I had ordered our meals in two restaurants in Gdańsk we were given free drinks - A totally unnecessary gesture especially as I know I butchered their beautiful language....but we did at least make the difference up in our tips 😄

Na zdrowie! 

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Upcycled Vintage Linen Bunting Tutorial

Repurposed Embroidery ~ Tablecloth Garland DIY!

It's been a year since my last post, but I have been kept busy!  I  gave up teaching in 2016, when I was manoeuvred into being a carer for my husband's parents, and it turns out looking after the elderly takes as much time and emotional energy as full-time teaching, marking and preparation!  

I can now only muster the time to sew 'special projects' and this is one of those.  Last month a very lovely friend gifted me the most amazing stash of material and vintage linens.  His father has recently died and so David and his sister have been house clearing - The females of the family were extremely talented needlewomen and I have been honoured to receive work created by his mother, aunt and grandmother.           

Look at the tablecloth above - It is absolutely beautiful!  It can seem strange to cut up such gorgeous pieces of work, but as so few of us now use tablelinens, these family heirlooms risk being tucked away in a drawer never seeing the light of day!  By repurposing them into new items they can once again be enjoyed on a daily basis.  

Bunting garlands are very easy to create, if you can sew in a straight line you can make one.  Even if your seams aren't quite straight....then simply embrace your very own shabby chic boho vibe!


The first step is to choose the shape of your bunting flags, this will depend on personal choice and the design and size of the embroidery on your vintage linens.  Just to get you started, here's some ideas;


I wanted to stitch up two strings of bunting, so that David and his sister could each have a set.  The two tablecloths I picked out to use suited quite different flag shapes and sizes, but the same method was used to create both. 

Once you've decided on your flag shape, the next step is to make a template.  Now maths and geometry are not my thing so there's no chance of me using a set square and protractor or even a ruler ~ instead I just created my templates in Word.  Simply open a new blank document, click on insert shapes, pick the one you want and then flip and drag it your heart's content!

Now trace your flag template onto a piece of clear acetate, you can either do this straight from your computer screen or print a paper copy first.  

Tip: I keep the clear windows from cardboard packaging (giftsets, toiletries etc) for just this purpose, it saves me money and acetate needs separating from cardboard before it goes into the recycling bin anyway!

Next, gently press your antique linens and if they've become thin from countless years of love and use, stabilise by applying iron-on interfacing. Mark out your first bunting flag using the clear acetate template to select your favourite areas of embroidery (fussy cutting) and then cut out. Repeat for the desired number of flags.

Using the template and lining fabric, cut out flags for the reverse of the bunting. Place right sides together with linen front pieces and then machine stitch around three sides, leaving the tops open.

Trim seam allowances, clipping across the bottom point, to reduce bulk

Turn the flags right sides out and gently push out the point using a chop-stick or other blunt instrument. Trim off the little ‘ears’ at the top to create a straight edge, then press.

Unfold a length of co-ordinating bias-binding and place the flags (approximately 1cm apart) inside it. Remember to allow some spare tape at either end of the bunting garland so that it can be tied or hung in its finished position. Machine stitch into place using the fold line as your guide.

 Now fold the bias binding over to the back of the garland and hand or machine sew into place (Alternatively, for a quicker, easier and cheaper finish, simply fold and press a length of ribbon or plain tape in half and then machine stitch flags into place). 

And that's it, a beautiful bunting garland, full of love and memories!

Perfect for an Easter Party or Spring Wedding!

Baby blue lace bias binding perfectly accentuates the delicate Forget-Me-Nots 

All done, ready to be gifted back to the original seamstress's grandchildren!

It was such a pleasure to be able to bring a family item back to life, all too often these amazing linens end up being thrown away or sold in charity shops and car boot sales for mere pennies.  They also make stunning zipper pouches, quilts and bag, I shall be keeping my eye out during the summer car boot season ready to rescue even more! 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

DIY Applique Bunting Tutorial

Meet 'Refuse' Chester Le Street! 

Due to the increasing health needs of my elderly parents-in-law, I now have precious little time to blog or sew but I've been working late into the night this week to welcome a wonderful new venture to Durham!

The REfUSE Cafe is a not-for-profit social enterprise which collects food that would otherwise go in the bin to make delicious Pay-As-You-Feel (PAYF) meals.  Its founders are Nikki Dravers and Mim Skinner who met as students at Durham University.  After graduation Nikki worked at the Durham Marriott Hotel where, at end of every breakfast shift, she was told to throw away huge amounts of mushrooms, sausages, bacon, bread and freshly squeezed juice. In the afternoons she was volunteering for the Salvation Army in Durham where she witnessed real food poverty, this injustice led Nikki to The Real Junk Food Project which in turn inspired her to set up REfUSE and, after a couple of years operating as a 'pop-up', they now have a permanent location in Chester-le-Street.

All the food in the cafe is provided by local shops, supermarkets and businesses having been deemed to be either 'surplus' or past its 'best before' date. The menu is ever changing, as it is obviously dependant on what has been donated on the day, but expect lots of delicious soup and curries, gorgeous quiches, filling sandwiches and simply scrumptious cakes - all lovingly hand baked on the premises!  Customers are then provided with an envelope so that they can pay what they feel is an appropriate amount for their feast.

To celebrate this amazing venture I've stitched Mim and Nikki a string of personalised bunting, fashioned from some of Mr Larkin's worn out work shirts!          

Upcycled Shirt Bunting Tutorial

The first step is to make a template for your fabric letters and bunting flags. Simply use Microsoft Publisher/Word, or similar software, to create a 14 cm equilateral triangle and then resize your chosen font (I used 'Moonflower' to match the cafe's logo) until the letters fit nicely in the middle of the triangle.  Print onto thin card and cut out. 


Now take your card letters and turn them over before tracing around them onto the smooth side of a sheet of Bondaweb.  Iron onto the wrong side of  your dark fabric and cut out.....They will now be facing the right way round!  Cut the required number of pennant flags from (upcycled) fabrics, not forgetting to cut out the same number of linings. 

I then introduced some lace to the design as I thought a touch of 'shabby chic' would work well in the cafe.  

If you also fancy this look simply stitch a strip of lace to the top of each of your fabric triangles 

Now take your Bondaweb letters and remove the backing paper before placing them centrally onto the flag fronts and, once you're happy with the positioning, fix into place with a hot iron.

Next, using black thread and an open-toe machine foot, sew around each of the letters at least twice to create a 'sketchy' feel.  Don't worry if you have a couple of wobbles as this all adds to the appeal of raw edge appliqué!

Place each appliquéd flag onto a triangle cut from your lining fabric, right sides together, and stitch the side seams leaving the top open (it looks like I've stitched the top seam, but that's just where the lace was sewn onto the triangles!).  Trim seam allowances and clip the bottom point to reduce bulk. Turn the flags right side out and use a chopstick or blunt stick to carefully push out the points, then gently press with a warm iron.

Finally, unfold a length bias binding tape and place flags inside at approximately 2 cms intervals, lining up top edges.  Make sure you leave at least 15 cms of tape at both ends of the garland for hanging purposes, then machine stitch.  If you don’t have any bias-binding simply use some pretty ribbon or tape folded in half.

You've now created a beautiful upcycled fabric bunting garland! 

Perfect for summer vibes!

REfUSE Waste....

Recycle Food and Fabric!

Should you ever find yourself in the stunning North East of England pop into the REfUSE Cafe for a delicious, and ethical, handcooked lunch!