Friday, 20 November 2015

Hand Stitched Crazy Patchwork

If you are one of those people that creates things with your hands, you really are very lucky.

Apart from the calming effect that handwork has, using your hands to do meaningful tasks benefits both your physical and mental health. I know that it benefits me, curbs depression and boredom, gives me purpose. It definitely calms me and as I mellow with age it tends to make me so laid back that I am almost horizontal. Nothing wrong with that and I feel real sympathy for those that have not discovered the joy of handwork. We all know them – those that say that life is boring (how can you ever be bored I ask, with tears in my eyes), those that look for their kicks at the bottom of a bottle or those that spend their time mall-cruising munching on medication. Sad, really.

For those of us that have discovered handwork and, in particular, those of us that discovered it early in life, the chances are we’ve tried the lot. I have. From watercolours to miniatures, dressmaking to felting. And everything in between. The only thing I have never tried is pottery. The idea didn’t grab me, bit messy. But needlework, done with my hands, no machine involved? What can I say? In reality, I have devoted all of my spare time and much of my life to it.

I think it would not be unfair to say that most hand-stitchers have tried all of the different arts associated with their passion. Quilting, beadwork, lace making, embroidery, patchwork. They’ve probably also enjoyed crochet, knitting and tatting. But seldom do they combine these different arts.

Some years ago I started building a doll’s house. One twelfth scale, everything made with my own hands and a few simple tools. It gave me the opportunity to use every craft that I had ever learnt. From wood carving to gilding, stitching to moulding with polymer clay. I was in my element and, particularly because I was forced to be innovative. I was so pleased with myself when I worked out how to make a wooden floor that looked like the real thing, using a roll of oak strip that kitchen-builders use down the sides of cupboard doors and a carton of wood filler.

In my mind, crazy patchwork is the needlework equivalent of that doll’s house. It is an opportunity to use every kind of needle art that you have ever learnt.

When I stitch, I spend some of the time thinking up what I am going to do in the future. A few years ago I had this thought that I would like to embellish crazy patch in such a way that not one thing is bought and stitched on, nothing should come out of a stash and, definitely, nothing that decorates it should be a machine-made applique or strip of lace. Everything that forms the embellishment should be made with nothing more than a needle, a thread, some beads and my own imagination. I tucked the idea behind one of my ears for future consideration.

It was still sitting neatly behind my left ear when my fabulous publisher and I were sharing far too much French Red in Paris a few years ago. She asked me if I could write a book for quilters. I said no, I’m not an expert on quilting. Then suddenly, fuelled by Bordeaux and Beaujolais, this crazy patch thing came screaming out from behind said ear. And that was it. Or rather, this is it.

Two of the projects in the book include crazy patchwork panels that have been put together with a sewing machine but, other than that, everything has been made by hand with a needle. What you might call ‘crazy patch from scratch’.

That necessarily means that there are a lot of techniques’ galleries in the first half of the book. These include embroidery, bead embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, tatting, needle weaving and needle lace techniques’ galleries. That’s for the embellishment. There is a techniques’ gallery for crazy patching and also simple quilting techniques for finishing off. We decided to count the number of techniques the other day and it came to something in the region of 160, depending on how you count it. For that reason alone, we are hoping that the book will be of interest to all sorts of needle artists from quilters to embroiderers. Even if the actual projects are not necessarily something they would want to do.

However. I had such fun working up the projects. I was barely restricted by lines, I could use every technique that I had ever played with and I could invent different ways to use them.

Gussy Up

This is the first project in the book and is truly ‘crazy patch from scratch’. I drew a circle with a large soup plate, ruled some lines to resemble crazy patchwork and then had fun. I filled the blocks with either needle weaving or otherwise, crewel embroidery stitches that created a background that loosely resembled fabric. And then I embellished. No applique, but daisies embroidered with thread. No buttons, but three-dimensional flowers made one bead at a time with beautiful Miyuki beads and beading thread. No machine made lace, but needle lace techniques stitched through the fabric to resemble insertion lace, then threaded with Di van Niekerk’s hand painted silk ribbon. Silk ribbon roses, bead embroidery, tatting and even some simple beading techniques that are generally used to make necklaces or bracelets, rethought to resemble braid. Of all the designs in the book, I had the most fun with this one.


The embroidery in the middle, although resembling crewel work is largely done with needle weaving, needle lace and bead embroidery, with a few crewel stitches pulling the whole thing together. The outside border is, as with the previous project, crazy patch from scratch. Every block is a needle weaving technique and where the two parts of the design meet, the intersection is worked with a beadwork jewellery technique.

My friend Pat van Wyk took my line drawing, enlarged it and (being a hand quilter at heart) recreated it with applique and traditional crazy patch techniques. A photograph of the exquisite cushion that she made it into appears in the book.

Waiting For Santa

The cuff of this Christmas stocking is, like the previous two projects, worked from scratch. Just lines on the fabric to resemble crazy patch, then lots of fun filling in with once again, a selection of all of the techniques – embroidery, silk ribbon embroidery, beadwork, needle lace, needle weaving, tatting…….and the pattern to make up the stocking is in the book.

Rambling Vine

If you thought that I might have forgotten my readers who are embroiderers pure and simple, then the Rambling Vine design would put your mind at rest. It is a wall hanging (or whatever you would like to make it) that comprises an ornate Jacobean-style embroidered branch lying adjacent to a panel of traditionally-worked crazy patch, machine stitched with 15 different fabrics onto a natural-coloured linen/cotton blend base. And madly embellished, in line with the general style of this book.

There are of course, needle artists out there who don’t want to embroider and to show them that they don’t have to, my friend Margie Breetzke has worked the Jacobean panel using a combination of applique techniques, bead embroidery and simple embroidery stitches. A photograph of the stunning result is in the book.

Savannah Winter

The day before I started this project, I had driven back from Johannesburg through the dry Highveld, as we call it in South Africa. A long, straight, flat, rather boring drive, it was mid-winter and everything at first glance appeared to be dead, dry and frigid with frost. I was, however, in the right frame of mind, not ever having really noticed how splendid the colours were on previous drives at the same time of year. For the better part of six hours I watched the road through my windscreen, all the time marvelling at the colours that were there. The gold and khaki of the dry grass, the grey-blue of the winter sky, the purple of the mountains in the distance, the green of the few evergreen trees, the crystal of the frost on the ground and some pink. When I got to Harrismith, decided it was time for a break and took off my sunglasses, I realised there was no pink in the landscape. It was my rose-tinted spectacles. But, what the heck, it’s a nice addition to the palette and so it was included.

This project is machine-pieced crazy patchwork, the embellishment is of course, all hand worked using the same variety of techniques and I have made it into a lid for a covered basket.


Once again, Liezl Maree, Metz Press’s amazing book designer has taken my ramblings and turned them into a masterpiece. Between us all we think that we’ve caught all the errors and typos in the interminable proof reading process (if we haven't, please forgive us - with the best will in the world, it's an impossible task) and it goes off to print this week.

The publishers, the printers, the ship that brings it to us from Malaysia, the warehouses, the distributors and any other players that I may not have mentioned, are working to a schedule that will mean that it is available from the 15th of March 2016.

And where to get it?

If you want to pre-order you can do so at:

If you’re in South Africa, or indeed anywhere on the African continent, it’s not up there yet but you will be able to get if from:

  • this website;
  • Takealot, who have taken over and really do deliver. I know. I order from them all the time.

With this book I set out to show readers and needle artists that they can combine the needle arts. All it takes is imagination and many enjoyable, calming hours. I hope that my intention will be achieved.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

So, you want to teach embroidery?

I spend a lot of time in front of my television because that is where I do my embroidery. After we’ve caught up with what’s going on in the world by watching the 6.30 news, my husband settles down in front of his computer to prepare for the next day in court, or to catch up on what he hasn’t done because he’s been in court for too many days in a row, and I turf in a disc to indulge in escapism while I stitch away happily. I’m fairly choosy about what I watch and spend an enormous amount of time, effort, and not a little money, finding good drama series, movies and so on, usually British and Australian – good stories, deep mysteries, and human beings that don’t look like they’ve had too much plastic surgery.

Something that I notice, all too often, is that if a drama is set in a country town during the years of the Second World War or the couple of decades thereafter, there is a minor villain that turns up in every episode. The gossip and the scandalmonger, the one who is in charge of every cake sale in the village hall, the lady who turns up at every event, every party and every drama, big or small. She knows about every unmarried girl who shouldn’t be pregnant, but is. She’s got the low down on every married person who is sleeping with someone other than their spouse. Want to know who is having money troubles? Ask her. Which marriages are going through a rough patch? She’ll tell you, and add her opinion at the same time. She’s usually a portly lady, terribly well groomed, awfully self-righteous and always a very active member of the Woman’s Institute or the Country Woman’s Association. If she isn’t the chair person, then she wants to be and that forms part of the story. A stereotype? Yes. But stereotypes develop because those people exist and are in everyone’s face.

These strident and buxom matrons influenced the lives of women in villages, town, suburbs and even cities. I grew up in the sixties and seventies and, although it wasn’t their heyday, they existed and still exerted their particular brand of poison. An adult woman could not bake a cake, make a pot of jam, pickle a cucumber or thread a needle without their input and, usually, their disapproval. And she certainly couldn’t teach anyone else how to do any of those things without their accreditation, their approval and their rules. There were rules and they had to be followed, whether they were logical and practical. Or not.

In my lifetime women have become independent and, having got themselves educated for something other than nursing, teaching or secretarial work, are out there telling people what to do. They are not prepared to listen to petty rules, don’t care a less about gossip, have learnt that provided their conscience is clear, that’s all that matters. These gossipy ladies and their organisations still exist of course but their influence, happily, has waned. You can now pick up a needle on your own and, if you want to, you can teach what you do without their accreditation, their disapproval and their scandal.

There are many of you out there who would either like, or have been asked, to become tutors of embroidery. And you can do that, particularly if you have something really great to offer. I’ve taught embroidery for more than twenty five years and, whilst I certainly don’t have all the answers (who ever does), I’m posting this edited version of an article I wrote for a local stitching magazine a few years ago.

I am going to pose a bundle of questions and in so doing try to help you decide whether teaching is for you. If you are a tutor, read this anyway. It may cover some things you haven’t thought of before. And if you think I’ve left something out, email me.

Do you have an expert knowledge of embroidery?

It goes without saying that you should not even consider tutoring if you don’t know what you are talking about. It is important to have an in-depth knowledge because not only are you likely to be tutoring ladies who know a lot already, but you are going to be asked questions that you may not be able to answer. No person should ever be expected to know absolutely everything there is to know. That’s unrealistic. If, however, you don’t know very much at all, find something else to do. Too many people set themselves up as tutors after one lesson and three weeks of practice. That gives all tutors a bad name and it’s not fair to the good ones. Besides, if someone is going to pay you to teach them, it is fraudulent to know less than you claim. It is not enough that you enjoy what you are doing.

Are you a natural teacher?

This might sound like a rather stupid question, but it is an important one. It is not sufficient to have a good knowledge of your craft, to be fabulously creative or even alarmingly adept at what you do. When a person sets out to learn something she will want to have a teacher who is understanding and endlessly patient. She will be looking for someone who is kind and prepared to show her something over and over again, if she cannot grasp it the first time. She is also looking for a person who is a good communicator and can demonstrate in a way that she can understand. If you are not this sort of person you can stop reading now.

Are you a people person?

If you are going to be tutoring often, you have to like people. You have to enjoy their company and they should enjoy yours. You might start off teaching a few specific workshops but as time goes on you are likely to end up with regulars. These are the people that come to you once a week, every week, for years on end. Many of them don’t necessarily want to learn something at every class. For them, it is the time they set aside to do their embroidery, away from their daily grind. They want to enjoy not only what they are doing, but also the social side of the class. For these people you are less of a teacher and more of a hostess. So, if you don’t like entertaining people, it’s not going to work for you.

Are you confident?

You can also stop reading if you are a shy and nervous little doormat. Whilst being patient, kind and understanding, you cannot be submissive. Inevitably, somewhere along the line, Mrs Bossy with an overbearing personality will turn up and she will want to dominate the class. You cannot let her do that. Or, you might find that Mrs Pampered walks through your door. This person is used to having people run around her, acquiescing to her every demand. She will expect you to similarly fall in line, in the sweetest way. She will smile, say please and thank you, and always play helpless. If you are too polite to take control of her you are going to end up with a huge problem. The first part of the problem is that you will begin to dislike her and the second part is that your other students will begin to dislike you, because you are allowing her to take up all your time, leaving none for them. If you are going to teach a class, particularly if it is a big one, you must have the confidence to control that class without becoming Mrs Bossy yourself.

Are you thick-skinned?

There are a lot of bad-mannered people out there. I’m not talking about the person who may not like an aspect of the work that you have created and are tutoring. That person usually asks if she can put something else in its place and that’s hardly something to get offended about. Each person has her own taste. I’m talking about the person who comes onto your property for a class and sees fit to criticize your garden or the way you have decorated your home. That same person will comment on your parenting style, how you dress and the way you have trained your dogs. She has awful manners and she is always offensive. And just when you thought you’d seen everything, she will pick a flower in your garden. Without asking. If you can’t put up with offensive people, don’t teach, especially from a home studio.

Are you perceptive?

You are going to end up with students of all types. You are going to have demanding ladies who want to get all your attention. You need to be perceptive enough to realize what they are doing and stop them. That’s the one side of the coin. The other is Mrs Mouse who doesn’t like to make a fuss, so she won’t let you know that she didn’t understand something, or that she is finished what she is doing and needs to be taught the next thing. She’s not going to tell you her needs, you need to perceive them. The best way to pick up this student is to keep an eagle eye and ALWAYS circulate during the class. (By doing this you will also pick up if someone is doing something wrong, or badly. This will save you time later when you would otherwise have to undo a terrible mistake that has gone too far.)

Are you quick to judge?

You might get the impression that one of your students is a nasty person. Don’t be too quick to judge because as time goes on you may well discover that she has marital problems, an abusive husband, a delinquent child or a difficult parent. She might suffer from a medical problem or depression. Many ladies take up craft classes to escape into a better world than the one they are living in. By encouraging what they do and providing a happy environment for them to do it in, you are helping them to have a few pleasant hours a week. In time, and with understanding, they usually turn into nice people. Interestingly you will often find that the other ladies in the class will pick up on the problem and will inadvertently help you by making her feel welcome, special and part of the group. Once again, though, that is the one side of the coin. The other side is Mrs Terminally-Enraged who is so angry with life that she spends the entire class bitching. That lady pulls everyone down and you need to be brave enough to ask her to leave. If you don’t, the other ladies in the class will be the ones to go.

Are you ethical?

My first point talks about having an in-depth knowledge of your art. It would not be ethical to teach it if you didn’t. Ethics, however, go deeper than that. They are linked to professionalism, they require that you are honest and they require that you continue educating yourself in order to offer a high standard. It goes further still. It requires that you don’t teach other artists’ designs without their knowledge and permission. It requires that you don’t infringe copyright or, as important, allow your students to infringe copyright in your studio. I think that it requires that your classes do not become a hotbed of gossip and scandal. It certainly requires that you don’t denigrate shops and other tutors, or poach their students. And if your students or staff bad-mouth absent class members, other tutors or shops, put a stop to the conversation or, at the very least, don’t participate. It requires that you are kind. If you think that something a student has done is awful, keep it to yourself. Find a tactful way of getting her to change it. And don’t get into religious discussions. Just don’t.

Are you passionate and can you pass that on?

The best tutors are those that are teaching not for the money they earn, but because they are passionate about what they are doing. They exude joy and enthusiasm and in so doing pass that on to their students. Tutors should not regard what they are doing as ‘just a job’ because that attitude won’t enthuse and inspire their students. And don’t think that you can demonstrate your enthusiasm by working on your own projects during a class. That’s not on. Your students have paid you for your time. Give it to them without distraction.

Do you know enough to be flexible?

Students come in all shapes and sizes, levels of ability and levels of aptitude. There are some students who don’t have, for example, the same spatial ability that others might have. Most students are right handed, but there are a few who are left handed. You need to have enough knowledge of your art to suggest a viable and good alternative to something that they cannot cope with. You need to be dexterous enough to teach a left-handed student if you are right-handed. If someone doesn’t like a technique that you have used in a particular part of a design, you must have the knowledge to pull out all the alternatives so that she can choose what to do instead. Students work at the pace they are capable of. Very soon into any workshop you will have students working at different stages. You need to be able to cope with this.

Are you an organized person?

This is an extremely important question. There can be nothing worse than for a student to pay for a class only to find that the tutor fusses around not knowing what she’s going to teach and not knowing what comes next, that there are no notes or that she doesn’t have everything at hand to complete the project.

  • Before offering a class you must have worked out a lesson plan, even if it’s only in your head. You need to have divided up the hours in such a way that you make sure you can get through everything that needs to be covered, without rushing at the end. Be realistic when you work this out and don’t try to cover too much in one lesson. You must allow for the pace of the students, even if you, yourself, can do it faster.
  • In advertising your workshop you must describe it clearly and fully and if it is not suitable for beginners, state that in bold letters. In that way you will cover yourself when the shop or convention you are teaching at has booked students who have never threaded a needle. These incapable ones will of course say that they didn’t know it wasn’t for beginners, but it isn’t your fault that they didn’t read what the advert said in the brochure, or that the staff who took the booking didn’t tell them. You need to refund them their money and suggest they leave because it won’t be fair to the others if they are held back by ladies who shouldn’t be there.
  • You need to work out a list of what students need to bring to the class and get it to them well in advance.
  • Any tools that they may need to use must be available to them. They can be tools that you provide or tools for them to buy – but they must be available. The same applies to materials.
  • You need to provide well written and properly illustrated notes or instructions. And you must do them yourself. It is illegal to photocopy someone else’s instructions, or to photocopy from books. In order to do this you need to have a computer, scanner and printer as well as the skills required to operate them.
  • The only person who is not allowed to be a latecomer is the tutor. You need to be ready and waiting, with everything set out long before a class begins.

Do you have the right teaching venue?

Whether you are teaching from a home studio or teaching at a shop or community hall, the teaching area should be suitable.
  • You must have sufficient space for students to spread themselves out, the chairs should be comfortable and there should be enough light. Natural light may not be sufficient, so additional lighting is often necessary.
  • Consider the noise levels in the general area of where you are going to teach. It is not only difficult to teach above outside noise, it is un-relaxing for students if a teaching area is too noisy.
  • Don’t forget that your students will require parking.
  • Consider whether you need to provide heating or air conditioning and make sure there is an available toilet and wash basin, with a cake of soap and a towel.
  • Consider how you are going to provide refreshments during breaks in teaching. A mid-morning or mid-afternoon break is vital. It enables students to rest their eyes and stop concentrating for a while. Remember, you know what you are doing and your students don’t. They have to concentrate harder than you do.
  • You are also allowed to make your own rules if you are teaching from your own home studio. One of my rules is that if you don’t like, or are scared of, dogs don’t come to my classes because the dogs come too. Now who would have thought that I would have made that rule?
  • You are also allowed to tell people that they can’t bring their children/grandchildren/visiting nieces and nephews. An adult class is not the right place for them. They distract everyone and must be left at home. With a babysitter.

Do you want to make your first million teaching your art?

I only have bad news here, I’m afraid. You won’t make lots of money. You won’t even be able to support yourself. You need to find out what the going rate is, either country-wide or in your area. You can’t charge that, or even close to that, if you are just starting out. So, don’t give up your day-job unless you have a rich husband or an inheritance. Because you will starve, and so will your children.

What are your aims?

This may sound like a silly question, but bear with me here. Ask yourself: ‘is my intention to merely host a stitching morning or do I want to seriously teach, promote and keep embroidery alive and flourishing?’ There’s a big difference between the two. If you want to call yourself a tutor you must choose the latter and you should communicate that to your students. If you don’t, you will not be allowed to moan and feel bitter if you end up with a class full of ladies who are just looking for a coffee morning, albeit one that they pay for.

How are you going to cope with problems?

There are the obvious problems like electricity blackouts, water-cuts, tools breaking, a greater response than you expected which could cause you to run out of stock, possibly weather and the possibility of you coming down with a nasty bug on the day you have a class. You need to make contingency plans for these things. However, if you are a tutor you will be teaching human beings and you will encounter human quirks. I could write a book on the many quirks that I have encountered but that would take a very long time, so I’m going to list just a few of the problems that I haven’t touched on yet and suggest ways of dealing with them.

  • Mrs ADHD: More often than not a student who is battling with a concept, or one who is demanding, is not concentrating and not listening. This could be because she keeps answering her phone or because she spends her time chatting to the person next to her, or it could be that she genuinely battles to concentrate. You need to sit next to this person and make sure that she is listening and every time her eyes get that glazed look, stop and ask her to listen. Pull her back from her daydream. It will be time worth spending.
  • The Late Mrs Crafter: Whether it is because of traffic or a car problem, or because she is a bad mannered person who is always late, the latecomer should not be allowed to disturb a class that has already started. She should be encouraged to sit down quietly and wait until you are able to get to her.
  • Mrs Value-For-Money: This is the student who comes to class now and then, maybe once a month. In the class that she attends she wants to get enough out of you to keep her going for the next month and will constantly be demanding your attention to the detriment of the other ladies in the class. You need to be strict with Mrs Value-For-Money. Only give her attention when her turn comes, otherwise you will run yourself ragged and that’s not fair to you. You also have to make sure that she has grasped what you have shown her, because very often she hasn’t. She wants to quickly move onto the next thing and suck you dry so she has decided that she’ll work it out properly at home. If you stick to your guns she will eventually accept it, or leave and that’s okay too.
  • Mrs Blame-Game: This person is seldom one of your regular students. You encounter her at Conventions and similar events. She is the person that always arrives early and then immediately criticises the article you are going to teach. She will say she doesn’t like the colour, or the fabric you have used. I used to wonder why a person would book to do a workshop if she didn’t like the article and then I realized that had nothing to do with it. She is sure that she is going to fail and is setting things up, from the start, to blame you. Nip that in the bud by offering to refund her money and allowing her to leave before the workshop even starts. If she chooses to stay you need, somehow, to make it clear that the deal is that she can’t blame you, particularly if everyone else in the class manages. Mrs Blame Game is also the person who didn’t enjoy her workshop, either because she should never have booked to do it in the first place or for whatever reason, she didn’t cope. She will blame you. If everyone else coped and enjoyed the class, let it slide over you. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  • Mrs I-Have-My-Own-Ideas: Like Mrs Blame-Game, this person is someone you usually encounter away from your home studio. She doesn’t want to do it your way, use the materials in the kit (wanting to use inappropriate materials instead) or to follow your instructions. You need to nip this in the bud immediately by telling her that she has paid you to teach her because you are the expert. That she is welcome to do what she wants with the techniques when she gets home but that while she is at your workshop she needs to follow your instructions and use your materials. Because, if you don’t do that she will blame you at the end of the day when she’s made a mess because her colours are wrong, or her materials were of inferior quality.
  • Mrs BYOB: On a party invitation that means Bring Your Own Bottle. In my studio it means (Don’t) Bring Your Own Beads. I stock all the embroidery and beading requisites with which I teach in my studio, or I provide a full kit. I don’t mind if somebody brings threads that they already own – provided they are of acceptable quality, which they usually are. The problem arises with beads. I only stock good quality beads because they produce good quality items and I place a huge emphasis on using quality materials. Why put in all the hours it takes to make something if you are going to use inferior materials. Mrs BYOB doesn’t agree. She wants to go down to the wholesalers and buy rubbish. Seed beads that are all sorts of shapes with sharp edges, where the sizing is irregular, the holes are off-centre and the colours fade. She will then want me to teach her with these beads and will be disappointed when her necklace either breaks or doesn’t look like mine. Do not let her do this. Make strict rules for Mrs BYOB and don’t deviate.
  • Mrs Inferiority-Complex: If you bide your time you will eventually find out that this poor soul has no confidence because she is dominated at home, comes from a culture where women are lesser beings, or has a medical problem. She is convinced that she won’t get it right and it is up to you to applaud every step that she does correctly. Show it off to the rest of the class, tell her how fabulous it is and watch her grow. It’s very rewarding when she blossoms.
  • The Duchess: We all know this person. She has travelled more widely, has more wisdom, has cleverer children or children with bigger problems, she is pompous, has huge pretensions and an inflated idea of her status in life, usually because she is married to someone who she perceives to be at the top somewhere. (My news for her is that it is 2015 and a woman is only allowed to claim status if the achievements are hers, not her husband’s.) She has an opinion on every subject that is discussed around the table and she always knows better. She is a pain. Don’t let her overwhelm the class. Change the subject. Every time.
  • Mrs Nothing’s-Good-Enough: This is the person who has unreasonable expectations. It’s not because your standards are lower than they should be but because she has those same unreasonable expectations at the supermarket, at the hairdresser, when she’s buying a car or even filling up with petrol. Nothing will ever be good enough for her or happen quickly enough. She is also the one who will complain about the price of everything. She will always try to get the rest of the class to agree with her, on everything. Get rid of her. She’s trouble and she’s not going to change.
  • Mrs Full-Ownership: For whatever reason, there are people in this world who think that because they have been to one lesson or they have bought one of your designs, they own you. They think that this gives them the right to phone you at 10 o’clock at night, on a Sunday afternoon or at 6.30 in the morning. If you then ask them to phone back during business hours, they are offended. First of all, decide what your business hours are and stick to them. Only give your mobile phone number out because that way you can identify the caller and decide whether or not you want to answer the phone. Phones in recent years now give you the option of sending a text instead of answering the call. Mine gives my business hours and invites the caller to phone then. There’s always the chance, then, that they will look up your land line number and phone you on that, so your family needs to know that they have to tell after hours callers that you are in the shower. We don’t have that problem at the moment. The cordless phone is lost. Buried under something, probably, and its battery has gone flat, so we can’t even ring it to see where it is. So then, don’t put it past Mrs Full-Ownership to then arrive at your gate. I have a sign on my gate stating what times I’m available, even if my car is parked in the driveway. And I stick to it. There is no such thing as an embroidery emergency so I ignore Mrs Full-Ownership and she eventually learns that I am entitled to my own leisure and family time. My daughter and her friends call that passive-aggressive!
  • Mrs Grand-Coffee-Morning: This is the lady that’s bored. She hasn’t got enough to do in her life and regards the classes she attends as grand social occasions. She will spend the time chatting to everyone around her, not allowing them to get on with what they want to learn, emitting huge woops of laughter and generally disrupting everything. She might even decide that your eats aren’t up to scratch and start arriving with boot-loads of cake, which will then keep you running around all morning fetching sharp knives, cake plates, cake forks and napkins. And before you know it, she’s got everyone’s birthdays recorded and is demanding that they bring the eats during the week of their birthday. If she’s just a once-off event student, you need to tactfully ask her to leave the others alone and if she’s one of your regular students, like Mrs Terminally-Enraged, you may need to ask her to leave if you can’t bring her under control.
  • Mrs WI: These ladies are a problem when you first start teaching. They know that you are still finding your feet and are waiting, ready to dispute much of what you say. You sometimes wonder if they have come there, not to learn, but to put you in your place. My standard reply to that is along of the lines of creativity, by its very nature, cannot have rules. You may have to repeat that often and they might eventually get the message. That you don’t care about petty rules, that the proof of what you are teaching is in the finished result. Fortunately, as you get better and gain a reputation, they tend to either stay away of keep their opinions to themselves.
  • The most difficult thing to deal with, and one that you need to make decisions on before you set up any studio, is the special-needs person. Very often a mother has a mentally-handicapped daughter and she will have decided that it would be nice if she joined a group of stitchers. My experience is that it doesn’t work. You will need to spend a disproportionate amount of time with her. More troubling, and depending on the extent of her handicap, aspects of her behaviour can cause discomfort to others. This is not fair to your other students and it turns you into a glorified babysitter. As harsh as I might sound here, my advice is to avoid the situation altogether.

Have you changed your mind?

So, there you have it. All the gory details. You need to know the logistics. And you must know the pitfalls, be prepared for them and stand firm. If you don’t, you will give up something that you would otherwise have enjoyed doing. And that would be a pity. If you are the right kind of person to be a tutor, have something worthwhile to offer to the community and being forewarned, you can put up with the downside (which doesn’t happen most of the time), it is so rewarding. It is wonderful to watch a shy, insecure women blossom as she creates something that she is proud of and it is even strangely satisfying when you realize that Mrs Full Ownership has got the message and is no longer phoning you at midnight. It will drive you to improve your skills and to invent new concepts. You will learn from, and often be inspired by, your students. You will get a special kind of thrill when someone who started with you as a beginner is suddenly designing her own pieces and they are being published. Many of your students will become good friends and, if you persevere you can even turn bad-mannered ladies into polite and pleasant citizens. Takes patience though.

Depending on the time that you have available and the type of commitment you are prepared to give to tutoring, you can end up traveling the country and even to other parts of the world, meeting like-minded people. There is no doubt in my mind that it is the best way to travel and make friends. I have made so many that I could get myself into trouble just about anywhere and find someone that I know to tell me where to find the best motor mechanic, hospital or doctor. Don’t be fooled, it is hard, hard work but…………… the harder you work the luckier you get! And I feel very lucky.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

A Quickie And A Chuckle

In my blog post on the 22nd of September, I said that I would be bringing out a little book of needle weaving techniques and that I would tell you when it was ready and available.

It’s here. Darren fetched it from the printers a few hours ago and they have done a fabulous job, it’s so nicely put together.

I’ve also got a bit better at the whole editing, designing thing and it is far nicer than the needle lace book – not that there was anything wrong with the information in that book, but this one is cleaner, crisper and generally more handsome.

So there you go. It’s got 42 different needle weaving patterns, along with a good first chapter on how to needle weave, the best needles and threads to use, how to read the patterns and so on and so on for a whole lot of pages. You’ll find it here on our website.

All this means that, as the first print run of that needle lace book is almost finished, I’m going to be doing a second edition with all of my new-found book designing knowledge and skill!

Also mentioned in the last post I did was the set of three Jacobean designs, called the Tumbleweeds set. I said that the second one was on its way.

That kit is now ready and on our website. You’ll find it here. The third one is yet to come. It's about halfway and I've been distracted by an owl that I designed. More on that another day.

I now have all of Ivan’s photos that were taken for my new book, which is scheduled for publication early next year. Any photos that I take (and most people, for that matter) do not do embroidery justice but Ivan somehow makes it look even better. Wish I could do that. I’m going to be writing about it very soon, I hope in the next week or so.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with what we’ve been chuckling over in my studio this week.

Yup, my idiot Boxer.

And if you think he looks uncomfortable, you would be wrong. Shortly after that he feel asleep in the same place.

It is why no one will ever be able to convince me that Boxers are not the greatest dogs in the world. They make me laugh every single day.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Catching Up

I think it’s time for a bit of catching up.

Between June 2014 and July 2015 I did five international and three domestic teaching trips. Living where we do, at the bottom of Africa, any international trip worth making involves a long haul flight that lasts at least 9 to 10 hours, and usually longer. Africa being well, Africa, there is less air traffic than you can expect in busier parts of the world. People fly less on both business and pleasure and this means there just isn’t a big choice when you’re booking flights.

Don’t think you can get a direct flight to Canada, for example. You can’t. You have to fly to Heathrow first. When you get there, they won’t let you out of the building because you have a South African passport and, unless you have got yourself an entry visa at great expense, you wait in the terminal. For as long as you have to. Because you come from a country that may hand out passports to people who aren’t genuine citizens. They do, of course. Our Home Affairs department is a hot-bed of corruption where you can get any document you want for the right amount of money, and those of us that just want to do a bit of honest travel have to suffer as a result.

Sometimes, though, a bit of wandering around a terminal can be interesting, if you keep your eyes open. It was at Heathrow, when I became a little peckish and went looking for something to eat, that I discovered the concept of ‘artisan’ food. Every eatery had something ‘artisan’ on the menu and, whilst I had heard of it, I had never really taken much notice of what it was, so I didn’t know what it meant.

But being no stranger to the digital world and Heathrow being efficiently wi-fied, I googled it. On my iPad. Isn’t technology cool? And how I giggled.

Put simply, it is food that is made ‘from scratch’ using ingredients that have come from within 150 km and have not been processed in any way. Like the food I make for supper every night. Like the food you make in your own kitchen. Did you know that you were so trendy, so chi-chi, so up to date? So silly, but such fun if you want to tease the image conscious.

Or even those that are not too fussed about image. A week or two after I got home my husband and son decided to go off to a church fete, because they wanted to stock up on homemade marmalade, pickles and jam (the mother in this house does not do that kind of cooking). They came home laden with boxes filled with all sorts of bottles, each a delicacy lovingly made by some church member in her kitchen at home. Artisan food. They just rolled their eyes when I pointed that out.

Like all things though, it is a little pernicious. It was my turn to roll my eyes a few weeks later when I received a newsletter telling me all about ‘artisan’ embroidery.

If you look up the word artisan it is, first and foremost, a noun. Not an adjective. It means a worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand. Hand embroidery is done by artisans. Finished, end of story, no need to call it anything else. Unless, by using that term, it raises its profile and creates interest in the art, in which case I may agree to eat my words.

But enough about the trendy and the silly. I’m home in the real world now, I’m stitching up a storm and I’ve tidied up my studio. We’ve almost finished revamping the website, getting all the correct stock numbers entered, the prices right and nothing left out. Some prices have even gone down a bit because our DMC threads are costing us less than they were.

And there are some new products.

The first one is a needle lace techniques book.

For a while I’ve known that I needed to sift out all of the needle lace techniques that can be used in embroidery, put them together in one place and, finally, I got around to doing just that. The book includes 25 ‘stitches’ and an additional 20 combinations or extras, like picots and the like. So 45 different techniques and ideas, all well illustrated with diagrams and point by point instructions, put together in a wire-bound book so that the pages can be folded back and not damaged while you are using it. The techniques are prefaced with a chapter on how to use the book and, also, basic things that you need to know about using needle lace techniques as embroidery stitches. You can find that book here.

I have all but finished a similar book that puts all the needle weaving techniques together in one publication and as soon as it is printed and available, I will post that fact on this blog.

If you thought I was just writing things, you would be wrong. I’ve been doing a lot of stitching too.

There is a new Jacobean design available with the inspiring name of JAC 24. Yup, just a code number, all this travel has made me tired and dulled my brain. It uses needle lace and needle weaving techniques as well as embroidery and bead embroidery stitches. Loosely based on the Mandala idea, I intend to mount it in a pole screen and place it near my fire place. For now, it still has to do its world tour. I will be teaching it at Beating Around The Bush in Adelaide, Australia during late September/early October next year. I’m a bit slim on dates here, but I do know that the brochures are not out yet and I’m not sure that it’s on the internet either. I think the details will all be published early next year.

Also having to do a world tour before it is mounted is JAC 25. I’ve been a bit more inspired here and called it Tumbleweeds 1 and it will be part of a set that will include 2 and 3. I will also be teaching that one at Beating Around The Bush. I’m having a bit of fun with this set of three, playing with combinations of needle lace stitches, inserting silk ribbon and cords, generally trying to take the idea of using lace in Jacobean embroidery a step further than I have previously done.

I’ve completed the second one of the set, but have not yet got it kitted. It takes a bit of time to get to that point what with screen printing, photography, notes and so on. When it’s done, it will appear quietly on the website in the Jacobean section, as will the third one of the set, which I am still busy stitching. Hours and hours of playing with dirty dogs at my feet.

Yes dirty. I had always thought Boxers were self-cleaning until I got Neville. He is the dirtiest dog on the planet because he loves to play and middle-age hasn’t slowed him down at all. It doesn’t help that we are into the rainy season now, so there is lots and lots of mud – because we’re revamping the back garden and the new grass is taking its time to grow back. His sidekick, Brenda, is the naughtiest Boxer in South Africa and that exacerbates the problem. We do, however, have plans to calm her down. She’s now old enough to become a mother and as soon as her hormones oblige, it is our intention that the two of them will make lovely, lovely babies. Pass on Neville’s unique temperament. We’re having to be very patient, though, because she was on contraceptive injections so that she didn’t come into season and they are taking far too long to wear off. If there’s no sign of it happening in the next few months we will have to consult the veterinary reproductive specialist up the hill.

In the meantime, they are doing good deeds. They have become blood donors. It gives me such a warm feeling to know that each of their donations can potentially save four dogs’ lives every three months. I was inspired to write all about it and you can read that article at Just click here. If you are similarly inspired, consider doing the same, wherever you are in the world.

And next time I post on this blog, I’ll tell you about the new book that I have written. The one that’s due out in early 2016.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Goat Show

We have had our present government for exactly 21 years (yesterday was a public holiday that celebrated that fact). In 1994, many predicted that it would take 20 years for our infrastructure to break down. Some of us chose to be optimistic and, unfortunately, our optimism has not been rewarded. It has taken almost exactly twenty years.

In the last few months we have purchased a petrol generator so that we can continue to work, cook and have electric light during our, usually daily, two-hour power cuts. Sometimes we have two two-hour power cuts in a day. In addition to the generator, we have installed two one thousand-litre reserve water tanks and are also the proud owners of a twenty-five litre refillable dispenser of purified water for drinking, and which has pride of place next door to the hob on one of our kitchen counters. I’m currently looking into a solar-powered geyser so that we won’t ever have to endure cold showers and, also, inverters. So that if we can’t get petrol to run the generator we have that back up. All at huge expense, particular if you consider that we pay tax and our tax ought to ensure that these things are provided.

From our customers’ point of view, some of you have also been affected by the fact that the postal service is all but non-functional.

It started last year with industrial unrest, then it seemed to come right and we started using the post office again. That, as it turns out, was not a smart thing to do because unbeknown to us it was not functioning at full capacity. Parcels that should have taken two weeks to reach our customers overseas were getting stuck at the international mail hub at Johannesburg airport, and taking up to two months to reach their destination. In addition to that, it has come to light that South African Airways was refusing to take their freight because they hadn’t paid their bills for, who knows how long. At least ninety days. Then last week, their bank accounts were frozen as a result of a court order, because they owe a cell phone provider about fifty million.

So, all in all, not a happy story. My son has a name for it which I am not going to repeat here. It has to do with goat fornication.

But all is not lost. As is the story of Africa, when things break down all sorts of entrepreneurs and other clever people spring up with clever ideas and good service. Everything goes private and that’s how we are solving our shipping problems.

If you are in South Africa and are one of our domestic customers, the only option that you will find in the checkout section of your cart when you order from our website, is Aramex Couriers. If you live in one of the main centres you will get your parcel the next day. If you live in a smaller centre it may take 36 to 48 hours from when it leaves our studio. We feel confident that you will be happy to use this method because, living in South Africa, you know exactly what our problems are.

For our international customers, if your parcel is under 2 kg, you will have two options. The first is Postnet (I’ll talk about them later) and the second is Aramex Couriers. For anything over 2 kg, the only option available to you is Aramex Couriers. Your might ask how you will know what it weighs. You don’t have to worry about that. The website calculates it for you and Postnet disappears from the options the moment it goes above 2 kg.

And now, to explain what these shipping options are.

Aramex Couriers is a worldwide courier, and works in the same way as courier companies whose names might be familiar to you. The reason why we use them is because their rates are the best out there and, also, because they have a local office which provides us with very good service. We are based in a small city and most of the courier companies don’t have offices here. That can create problems, so it’s better to use a company with an office in town. And whenever the manager pays me a courtesy call, she just loves my dogs. That’s a big plus for Aramex! Like all courier companies, though, international customers will probably have to pay handling costs at destination. This would include customs duty, which you would probably pay anyway. If you choose Aramex as a shipping option, you must give us a physical address (as opposed to a post office box number), your telephone number and your postal code.

Now to Postnet. Postnet has been operating as, amongst other things, a private post office for a number of years. At least a decade, but probably more. When the South African post office was operating as it should, we didn’t use them as we had no need to. Earlier this month, however, when we decided that we would no longer darken the door of any post office branch anywhere, I went to see them because, although we have the option of using couriers, it’s expensive for our lighter parcels and we needed something closer to normal postal rates. I came away from my meeting with our local branch feeling positive, at last.

They have nothing to do with the post office at all. Their international mail goes to one central point in Johannesburg, from where it is sent to London. From London they use the services of Royal Mail or Global Mail to distribute the parcels to wherever they need to go in the world. All of this for only a slightly more expensive (15%) rate than conventional postal rates. It also means that, whereas parcels may have previously got to their destinations in about two weeks, it is likely to take a few days longer. Slightly slower and slightly more expensive, but from my point of view, peace of mind is priceless, particularly after what we have experienced over the last seven months or so.

If your parcel weighs less than 2 kg, but may be close to that weight, it is worth checking on both options. Very often at about 1.5 kg, depending on where it is going in the world, the Aramex rate works out cheaper than the Postnet rate. How to check, you may ask?

Once you have ordered what you want to order, sign in and make sure that we have your correct delivery address. #You can do that by clicking on ‘my account’ then on ‘shipping options’ and click ‘save’ once you have entered your correct address.# Go to ‘view cart’

Once you have reviewed your order, click ‘proceed’. You will be taken to a page that, at first glance, looks like you are only offered the Aramex option. Take a look at the charge under Shipping, take note of what it is and then click on the white box (with the arrow) above that and choose Postnet. If Postnet is not available it means that your parcel is over 2 kg. If it is available, the shipping charge will appear in the same line of the invoice below that, and you can decide which one you want to use at that point, bearing in mind handling charges for couriers (not Postnet) on your end. Depending on what option you have chosen, you might need to change your delivery address, which you can do before proceeding, by repeating # to # above.

So, I think we might have solved our shipping problems, with not a lot more expense. We are keeping an eye on it and hope that we won’t have to change again.

I am grateful to all of the customers that have been so very reasonable during this transition period and for those that haven’t, we have understood your frustration.

Over the years I have heard complaints about all sorts of postal services – Royal Mail, USPS, Canada, wherever – and I think to myself ‘you haven’t got a clue’. If you live in a country where everything works and, of course, you take it for granted that it will work, it is just not possible to understand the goat show (that’s the polite version of what my son calls it, see above) that we’re dealing with here. I don’t expect you to understand it, but please be assured we do our best to make sure that you get what you have ordered. And if you don’t, we send it to you again at our own expense. Whatever happens, you will always get it. Maybe late, but not ever never.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Inspirations Mekong Cruise – another post

It has taken me too long to get down to writing about this fabulous cruise so I am now going to drop all the other pressing tasks that I have and just get on with it. After all, I finished writing my book a few weeks ago and I am no longer being bitten by fleas, so there’s really no excuse.

Our first stop on this trip was Siem Reap in Cambodia.

For those of you that don’t know, Siem Reap is the gateway city to the Angkor Wat (and other Angkor) temples. From the moment we walked into our hotel it was evident that this was going to be no ordinary trip. Apart from the beautiful surroundings and the scent of something in the hotel lobby (we never found out what it was, but it was scent-sational), the hospitality was more than outstanding. One knows that South East Asia has that reputation, but this was my first experience of it. At first one doesn’t know how to respond, but eventually one realises that one just needs to appreciate it, to react with similar respect and kindness, and to smile, because there is quite simply no reason not to.

Because we had all come from different parts of the world, we had arrived in dribs and drabs throughout the first morning. It took just a few hours, though, for all of us to find each other and only another short space of time before we had become a unit, banded together and got ourselves onto a fleet of tuk-tuks to visit the markets in Siem Reap. Driving through the disorderly streets of Siem Reap in a fleet of swaying tuk-tuks was a bonding experience like no other.

As I mentioned in my first post, South East Asia is an assault on the senses and this was our introduction. All manner of different smells, some spicy, some fishy, some identifiable and some, um, let’s just say, pungent.

Then the sights:

Colourful silks

Um, food

And my personal favourite:

The wiring.

Look, I live in Africa and we have huge electricity problems (I’ve recently bought a generator) but I had never seen anything like this. It seems to work though, which much of the time ours doesn’t, so who’s complaining.

By the end of that first day, our group had bonded. It was so easy to do that because despite the fact that the group consisted of Australians, Americans, Brits and two loud-mouthed South Africans – of which I was one – we all had a common interest and we were all keen to have fun. Well, Scott and Crash (our two men) weren’t mad stitchers, but what fun they were and how nice it was that they came along too. Rather brave chaps.

On our only full day in Siem Reap, we were picked up by a garnished tour bus (curtains, anti-macassars, tassels, fur on the dashboard – delightful) and taken to see the temples. Our tour guide, Mr Chum, was like everyone we met in Cambodia. An outstanding person, and full of interesting information.

Like many people, I never really knew what had happened in Cambodia or Vietnam. When those troubles were in the news I was either a disinterested teenager or a young mother pressed for time. Naturally one is curious and Mr Chum satisfied my curiosity. I now know of the horror and, as a result, admire the Cambodian people even more for the way they are today. Hardworking and happy, pulling themselves out of that horror with an attitude that one can only admire. Of course those that lost loved ones, or experienced the horror first hand, are affected but they seem to have put that behind them and are getting on with rebuilding their lives and their country. So inspiring.

As a group, we came to the conclusion that if one were thinking of visiting Cambodia one ought to do so soon. In five or ten years’ time one would not see the Cambodia we saw and loved because there is a lot of development happening, things are moving fast and it will be a completely different place.

It might have better roads, though.

The distance from Siem Reap to Kampong Chan, where our boat, The Mekong Navigator, was waiting for us is about 250 km. I would have said normally a two to three hour journey on a tarred road, it took us six hours! We bumped, we hit potholes, we were diverted onto detours and, after the initial shock, we just laughed (I also congratulated myself for having bought new underwear – foundation garments - shortly before I left home. Dread to think of how bruised my face would have become if I hadn’t.) For me, it was reminiscent of a trip I took from Lusaka to Victoria Falls in Zambia about 30 years ago. The same kind of road and one that would have been better without any tar. Because it was the state of the tarred surface that was the problem.

But then, we came around a corner and look what was waiting for us.

The Mekong Navigator

From the moment we were guided onto the boat from the muddy river bank, it was a five star experience. Once again, superb hospitality, sumptuous cabins, beautifully appointed communal areas and really good food.

We gathered in the upstairs bar every evening – where we very quickly learnt that it was cheaper to drink gin than it was to drink water - for a briefing on the next day’s events or outings. On some of the days we were stitching – those that weren’t stitching were taken on an outing – and on other days we were taken to places.

At this floating village, we snapped a Cambodian lady stitching on her verandah.

We bravely rode through chaotic traffic on cyclos to see the royal palaces in Phnom Penh;

We marvelled at the fact that entire families could fit onto one small motorcycle;

We took a ferry to Silk Island to see how silk is made;

And I took photos of dogs.

I could go on forever, but you will probably become bored. Remember when family friends went abroad when we were children? When they got back you were invited round for full evening of slide show. The most boring thing that every happened in my childhood and I don’t want to do that to you.

Besides, you may ask, what about the embroidery – the reason why we were there in the first place. For me, as one of the tutors, it was an enriching experience.

Because the classes were small and also because we were together for an entire week, we had the time to not only get to know one another, but also to really get into the nitty gritty of the stitching that we were doing. So often, when a class is large and the time is restricted, one has to almost gloss over the techniques, do them in a hurry and, as a tutor, feel that perhaps one hasn’t covered enough of the detail. Not so on the Mekong. We had all the time in the world and for me, personally, I felt that by the time we got off the boat all of my students knew exactly what they needed to know to complete their projects. That was very satisfying.

Needless to say, we had a beautiful room to stitch in.

We took over one end of the dining room and, the best part was that we could leave our stitching paraphenalia there for the entire week. Nobody touched it or moved it so we could keep going back to it either for a formal stitching session, or just to dip into it for a few quick moments while waiting for supper, a tender boat to fetch us, or whatever.

When I look back on it now, some three months later, the feeling that overrides all others is that everyone was so kind. Apart from being hardworking and terribly organised Fiona, who put the cruise together, is the kindest person in the world. And so is Susan. If someone was a little uneasy or nervous, the two of them made that person feel better. If someone needed to know something, Fiona or Susan gave them that information and if they didn’t know the answer to a question, they found that answer. Nothing was too much trouble.

That kindness didn’t stop with the two of them. Everyone in the group was kind. One or two people developed ailments on the boat (myself included) and if a bit medication was needed, there was always someone in the group prepared to share something they had in their luggage. The younger members of the group always made sure that the older participants could manage to walk over or climb up things. If someone seemed to be missing from a group activity, she was looked for and found. And so on……..

Yesterday afternoon I received an unkind email from abroad. It was completely unnecessary and I was dumbfounded. It did, however, make me look back fondly on the cruise and all of my fellow travellers. It also made me realise that whilst that may not be unique, it was also not inevitable. It came from the top and filtered down to everyone. For that alone, if Inspirations Magazine were ever to ask me to teach on another of their cruises, I would say yes. Even if I didn’t really have the time, or want to go to that part of the world. It is also why, when they do future cruises, you should consider taking part.

After we got off the boat at the end of our cruise, we parted ways in Saigon, having made fabulous friends. Fiona, her sister Lynnear, Susan and I didn’t go home. We went up to Hanoi and over to Ha Long Bay. We saw some ‘gobsmacking’ embroidery up there. I am going to write about that in another post. What I will say about that, for now, is that Fiona went home armed with a huge amount of information about the north of Vietnam. She is going to research it all and I am fairly sure that in the future, Inspirations Magazine will be making something happen in that part of the world. Watch out for it.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Inspirations Mekong Cruise - First post!

A few of you have asked why I haven’t done a blog post on the Inspirations Mekong Embroidery cruise. It was fabulous and so well organised, deserving of more than one post and I’m going to do something soon. I have had a problem though and to explain myself, the first thing I’m going to post is the email that I sent to our vet friend yesterday evening. Enjoy, and don’t be appalled. It happens and it is completely and utterly my fault.

” Flop,

I am going to tell you a long, sorry story. Whilst reading it, you may question my reasons for telling you. They will become clear.

I spent part of November in Cambodia and Vietnam, teaching on a cruise on the mighty Mekong River. Fascinating, amazing, an assault on the senses. All of them, particularly the sense of smell because although we were on a five-star boat with everything that entails, it was basically floating on the widest sewerage drain you are ever likely to encounter. After that was over four of us went up to Hanoi and then over to Ha Long Bay for a 3-day, 2-night additional cruise. We treated ourselves, because you can't go to Vietnam and not go to what is quite possibly the most beautiful spot in the world.

Those two countries do not have a square inch to spare. Everywhere, other than the shoulders of the roads, is either inhabited or cultivated. In fact, even the shoulders of the roads have motorbikes buzzing along, each carrying four to six persons and a load of building materials. Apparently they drive on the right hand side of the road, but you could never tell that by looking. They drive wherever there is a gap. Full of people, hot, humid, very tropical and really rather dirty. I had promised the dogs before I left that I would be careful of what meat I ate. I kept that promise. No street food, the rumour is they eat dogs there. You are jostled in crowded streets, there is litter, most buildings could do with a coat of paint and everything is ‘cheek by jowl’. It was wonderful. An experience that I was privileged to have had.

I got home on the 2nd of December and on the 5th of December I started itching. Initially it was thought that I was having an allergic reaction to penicillin because I'd had an ongoing tooth abscess problem. The antibiotic was changed, the tooth was extracted on the Thursday and I still itched. On the Sunday evening I took myself off to Mediclinic emergency, desperately looking for relief. I was given a cortisone drip, an anti-histamine injection and one or two other things, but still nothing changed. By this time I was covered in spots, pretty much everywhere. Went to my own doctor on the Wednesday, he upped the cortisone and provided me with soothing lotions. They didn't soothe, nothing changed. I was back on the Sunday and now - because I've been in South East Asia - I am treated for scabies, head lice and every other kind of vermin on the list. No change. My skin is feeling raw and I’m thinking these things survived Napalm and Agent Orange in the 70s, they must be extra resistant. Back on Tuesday, next available medication not in stock and a suggestion is made by one of the pharmacists that dog dip might help. Wendy and one of your colleagues may have told you that I had popped in to buy some. Somewhat wide-eyed, your colleague had not wanted to record it for human consumption. I said, put it down for Gladness who is the most likely member of our armed response team to have got mange, because of her heritage. He did. It was reasonably soothing - of all of them the most helpful - but still no real change. I continue to scratch, desperately.

By now my doctors are saying that we need a dermatologist, but it's two days before Christmas and theirs being a non-emergency speciality, they've all gapped it to an Indian Ocean island, or wherever it is they go to escape acne and dermatitis over the festive season. So, I'm put on Tramacet, which I gather is the last stop before morphine, to dull the itch and I continue with all the cortisone, anti-histamines and lotions that aren't working. The first half of each day, after I've been awoken from my Zolpidem induced (only four or five hours) disturbed sleep by the itch at about 4 in the morning and have dosed myself, I manage quite well but from mid-afternoon and every evening there is an eruption. Christmas is desperate, New Year no better. All that I'm doing is waiting for just one of the dermatologists to come back from wherever they are, I'm sitting in a corner scratching like a mongrel dog, drinking far too much red wine every evening because it helps, chain smoking and wild eyed. Two inches from an asylum. We've also fogged the house twice, brought in the steam cleaners, the washing machine is overworking with sheets and towels being changed daily. Handsome son says he feels dirty. You know, my mother went to Asia and didn't even bring me a t-shirt. Just scabies.

At lunch time today I finally saw a dermatologist, and that is why I'm telling you this long sorry story, and because you once asked me for a report back on a new product. She's taken a sample of skin, I have two stitches in my back and I will get the results on Thursday - but in the meantime, she is fairly sure of a probable diagnosis.

Between returning from Australia in October and leaving for SE Asia, I was frantic. We were in the middle of that dreadful postal strike, parcels had gone astray, we were organising couriers, resending orders, tearing our hair out. My new book is proving popular and that didn't help. But got it all sorted out, hopped on SA Airlink to Johannesburg where I later strapped myself into Cathay Pacific, took off for Hong Kong and heaved a sigh of relief. Had got it all done.

But I hadn't.

When I returned about three weeks later, on the first night I was home, I noticed that the dogs were crawling with fleas. I had forgotten to give them their flea tablets. Too preoccupied with getting myself and my passport off to the exotic East. Tail in between my legs, feeling ashamed, I dosed them with Comfortis there and then. Do you know where I'm going with this?

The fleas jumped off them and, not wanting to jump back because of Flop's Marvelous Muti, infested the house and mostly, the chair I sit in every evening. I recall a few flea bites, one or two, nothing major. But, basically, I've had an allergic reaction to fleas which should only have lasted about three weeks, but for the fact that they are in my favourite chair and contribute a bit more saliva or whatever every evening. I haven’t seen a single flea, of course, and I have been checking for every kind of insect, believe me.

I am now on new medication, more lotions and, if the biopsy says that the dermatologist is correct, after itching to near-insanity for one full month (exactly a month, as it happens) there is light at the end of the tunnel. Swat Pest Control have been phoned with a request for a deep, deep fumigation and I await a confirmed day from them, that infested chair has been moved out of the TV lounge and my general state of mind is back on track so that I can finish the book I'm writing by the end of this month.

And your report back? Comfortis is good, too #&%$ing good. We will continue to use it – of course we will. It’s amazing. However, don’t. Do not break the cycle. Particularly in summer. I’ve learnt my lesson.

We must arrange a dinner date. Soon.

Kind rgds Hazel”