This week, I’ve had a few days away in London, mostly to see the Royal School of Needlework’s ‘Peacock and Pomegranates’ exhibition, but also to enjoy some of what the capital has to offer. One of the great things about London is just how much variety there is in things to do and places to go. For crafters in a lot places, the local yarn shop’s best offering is some sad looking balls of Robin’s acrylic double knit but in London, you’re spoilt for choice.
Shopping in general is also a different experience, with a wealth of glitzy stores housing luxury brands. However, learning a little about garment construction and how to sew a decent seam has made me realise that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors to expensive clothing. I will never fail to be amazed how many ‘top end’ brands still have sloppily overlocked seams and raw edges disintegrating by the day.
However, while managing to get completely lost in the bowels of Harrods, there was something that caught my eye…
This tiny section of beading and feathers is part of a beautiful velvet evening jacket by Ralph and Russo, a British haute couture fashion house. Normally haute couture is a little too bonkers for me but Ralph and Russo’s work is exceptional. The extensive hand embroidery on their pieces is an exhibit of the finest appliqué, beading, and metalwork. Sadly far, far beyond my budget but definitely worth a look at for some design inspiration.
Inspiration for new projects and designs can come from anywhere. Postcards often have excellent subjects for small embroidery designs and architecture can make an interesting starting point for thinking about shapes or maybe a piece of blackwork in its own right. However, there is one theme that is common in all forms of art, from thread painting to Romantic poets, and that is the beauty of the natural world. We were going to the right place to see nature at its finest, Kew Gardens, one of England’s most famous botanical gardens.
We’d decided to forego the quicker and more convenient Underground to get to Kew in order try one of the Thames River Cruises, which starts at Westminster and stops at a few places along the river, terminating at Hampton Court. I’m incredibly glad we did as you get a completely different perspective on London from the river and you have the time to really appreciate the wealth of architecture in the city. Most of the time when you’re busying around London you’re too busy trying not to get mowed down by the crowds to stop and appreciate anything and getting around by Tube means you miss a huge amount as well.
I’d never noticed before but there are some amazing bridges along the river, all built at different periods, in different styles.
When most people think of Kew Gardens, they probably think of the iconic Palm House, which Decimus Burton based on the hull of luxury cruise liner. Founded in 1840, the grounds are steeped in history, with pagodas and a few royal residences. Kew is also home to a huge amount of scientific research, including understanding how to protect and preserve rare plant species.
I particularly enjoyed visiting the Palm House, home to a variety of tropical plants and even a mini-aquarium downstairs. What was most striking about walking around is seeing the variety of textures in the plant leaves. Many of the plants had no flowers but that didn’t stop them looking incredibly striking.
The underwater plants also came in a really interesting variety of textures and colours. I think seaweed might be an unappreciated piece of natural beauty!
Kew is more of an arboretum than English country garden but there were still some beautiful flower beds. Mixed flower beds are an interesting way to see which colour combinations work well with each other and how much spacing you might need between areas of really bold colours in a design so they complement rather than clash with each other.
The entrance fee for non-members might be a little steep, but there’s enough in Kew for many days of exploration. It’s also a nice place to really appreciate the magnificence and complexity of the world around us. If you take a moment to look at a tree, just how many branches are there and how many subtle shifts in their arrangement to create the overall shape. Beautiful as they are, I wouldn’t like to try and copy that branch for branch in my stitching!