The Many Faces of Lincoln Cathedral...

Lincoln Cathedral has to be one of the most impressive surviving medieval buildings in the world. I'm a self-confessed history-junkie with a passion for the medieval, but honestly I don't think anyone could deny just how amazing it is. Perched on top of the only hill for miles, you can't miss it and as you get closer, the sheer size and elaborate decoration are breath-taking.

the west front Lincoln cathedral detail.jpg

On our recent travels with a tent we were able to snatch almost twenty-four hours in Lincoln (actually we stayed in Bardney and cycled along the Witham to Lincoln, pushing our bikes up Steep Hill when we got there, but that's another story). I'd only been able to have a quick visit inside the cathedral once before, so I was determined to have a more detailed tour this time.

But you know, I've come to the conclusion that just like major art galleries and museums, you shouldn't attempt to see everything in one visit. One look at the West Front of Lincoln Cathedral and you quickly realise that a life-time would scarcely be enough to fully appreciate it. Trying to take it in you rapidly reach a kind of medieval-cultural-overwhelm.

Still, if you only have a few hours you have to give it your best shot, so I set off with eyes wide open, soaking up the atmosphere and trying to let it seep in and not wash over in great waves of gorgeousness.

The first building here was begun shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1088 and it was pretty much a continual project throughout the medieval period. During that time it suffered a number of set-backs, including being seriously damaged by an earthquake of all things in 1185 and the collapse of a tall central spire in 1549 (until the loss of that spire it was the tallest building in the world).

Parts of the West Front are survivals from the pre-earthquake era and arguably the most impressive part of the building - the sheer intricacy of the carving is mind-blowing (well it blows my mind for sure).

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

A selection of the intricate Norman carving surrounding one of West Front doors, Lincoln Cathedral (rotated 90 degrees). Those faces! Is it just me or are they somehow hypnotic? Who are they? What are they meant to be?

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

See what I mean - even if you could see that far, it would take months to really study all the carving.

Going inside the grandeur is compelling. Almost all medieval cathedrals manage to fill me with awe, goodness knows how the average medieval peasant thought about them but Lincoln must have been right up there with 'wonders of the world'.

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Looking up to the ceiling of the central tower. The geometry evident everywhere is staggering. 

Somewhere around this point under the tower, with stained-glass windows in every direction I began to get a touch overwhelmed. I stood slowly revolving, staring up, gaping and no doubt looking like a prize idiot, except that most other people appeared to be doing much the same thing.

Coming back down to earth I began to notice a whole load more faces - men, animals, comic, serious - adorning the screen to our side and so I spent the next considerable time photographing some of them (clearly these were once painted, you can still see traces of the paint in many places).

A little devil would you say?

A little devil would you say?

Eventually I had to tear myself away from all these goodies, because there was one more thing I had to see on my visit and that was the tomb of Queen Eleanor of Castile.

Eleanor of Castile Lincoln Cathedral-01.jpg

Eleanor of Castile

Now in fact although there is an exquisite gilded brass effigy of Eleanor looking wonderfully serene in the cathedral (the work of English sculptor William Torell) only her viscera were actually interred here. Her body is in Westminster Cathedral (and her heart was buried in the Dominican Friary of Blackfriars, London).

I don't know if you're the same, but I have a small cast of historical favourites that just interest me more than others and one of mine is King Edward I, the husband of Eleanor. Now I'm the first to admit that although he was tall and athletic, he wasn't an entirely likeable chap. He was famous for his temper, could be extremely aggressive and had a relaxed attitude to fair-play and justice, and then of course he went about subjugating the Welsh, building the ring of Edwardian castles that still stand today, and followed that up by attempting to do the same thing in Scotland - although with rather less success.

I don't think Edward was every woman's ideal husband. But here's the thing, from surviving records it appears that they had a very happy marriage and were truly deeply attached to each other. They were both just teenagers when they married. Over the years she gave birth to more than 12 children, although only one of her sons survived her. Rarely apart, Eleanor accompanied Edward on his military campaigns throughout her life. And Edward, such a difficult man in many ways is not known to have had any extramarital affairs or fathered children out of wedlock, which was certainly unusual at that time.

When Eleanor died aged 49, Edward mourned her, they had spent most of their lifetime together. It was for Eleanor that he had crosses erected at the locations where her cortege stopped on the way to Westminster - now known as the Eleanor Crosses.

Needing to secure the dynasty, Edward was to marry again nearly 10 years later at the age of 60 and again it appears that this second marriage to Margaret of France, 40 years younger than him was also deeply affectionate and loving. This marriage produced two sons and a daughter and she was named Eleanor in honour of his first wife. Margaret never remarried after the death of Edward even though she was still a young woman.

So, whatever his political and military history and significant character flaws, I find Edward fascinating. If you want to know more about him, try reading A Great And Terrible King - Marc Morris.

And finally: Lincoln Cathedral or Westminster Abbey?

When I was reading about Lincoln Cathedral, I discovered that the cathedral is the stunt double for Westminster Abbey - appearing in the films The Da Vinci Code and Young Victoria. Apparently the real Westminster Abbey refused to have the film crews in, so Lincoln was made to impersonate it - I'm off to watch the DVD now and see if I can spot it....


I wonder if you have a pet historical bad-boy or girl? Do tell who and why.

And until next time,

Happy Stitching x






Well how wrong can you be...

And then, just like that it was September...

Hello again everyone, sorry to have gone off piste during August - we were suddenly in a position to take a holiday (something that had previously seemed unlikely to happen) so it was all change and a rapid packing of bags and camping equipment before we set off north to explore some gorgeous parts of North Yorkshire and Northumberland.


The plus side is that I now have enough photos from visits to a whole list of spectacular heritage sites to sink the proverbial battleship (except of course these days they're just digital soup) - and I promise to write about and share the best of the pictures over coming weeks.

The downside is that we can't currently walk through the hall due to the vast amount of post-holiday ironing that is stacked up in every laundry basket and flat surface we have. I should really be out there now tackling the mountain, but well, it's not going away and I don't expect to be the woman on her death-bed wishing she'd spent more time ironing...

So, what have you been up to while I've been gallivanting all over the place? I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere has had a lovely summer and those still working to the rhythm of the academic year are feeling refreshed and ready to go. This is the last year I'll have a child in school - how did that happen! We went out shopping for stationery this week - admit it, you still like a new pen and a pristine pad of lined A4 paper.

I succumbed to a new mechanical pencil, a pair of bright green reading glasses (in Tiger of all places) and ahem, a pair of Doc Marten boots. Ok, I accept the boots can't really be classified as stationery, but I've wanted a pair for about as long as I can remember. There was no way I'd have got away with them when I was young but over the years I've occasionally had a flash of an image of me wearing a pair and yesterday as I walked past the shoe shop I swear they sang out to me to go in and rescue them.

I'd expected them to be a bit stiff and painful to put on, but the goddess of shoes was watching and found me the comfiest pair imaginable and quite frankly after that resistance would have been futile.

So now you're sitting there thinking ahhh, poor Anny, she's finally having her mid-life crisis and to be honest you may be right, but at the same time I'd have to say that if I am I'm feeling pretty good on it. If it's alright for blokes to buy themselves a Harley-Davidson or a little convertible sports job I don't think a pair of chunky functional leather boots is going too far and part of me feels very Granny Weatherwax* in them which is no bad thing. (There's a brief history of the Dr Marten boot if you click here).

In other news, I'm way off on my reading list, but I have totally fallen in love with the writing of Max Adams having taken In The Land Of Giants away camping with me and discovering that he had written about exactly the same places I was visiting on a several occasions. (Mainly Hadrian's Wall and I'll write about that separately very soon). So entirely have I been enthralled by his book that since we returned home I have also bought two other books by him - The King In The North (about the seventh century king Oswald of Northumbria) and The Wisdom of Trees - and being totally confessional I've also pre-ordered his new book Aelfred's Britain which is published in November. Do you think this qualifies me for fan-girl status?

Inevitably all the time away has curtailed stitchy activities in August (bitter experience has taught me not to bother trying to stitch while camping), but actually I was ready for a break and now I'm feeling completely re-energised. There is a lot to tell you about on the arty front but that too will have to wait just a little longer, suffice to say I'm going to be very busy for the next few months. But at least this time I trust I have things better organised so (and I'm typing this with my fingers-crossed) no random absences.

Right, I've rambled on enough for now, I'm off to sift through the clothes pile. It's lovely to be back. Please do leave a comment, tell me what you've been up to, what are you reading, how has/did/will your mid-life crisis manifest?

I'll leave you with a glimpse of where we went on holiday...


* Granny Weatherwax is a character created by the late and much missed Sir Terry Pratchett. If you've read the Discworld books you'll know exactly what I mean and if you haven't, stop what you're doing now and go and read them immediately...

Until next time, happy stitching x



A Little Summer Reading...

We're just reaching the end - I hope - of our manically busy few weeks and with a bit of luck we'll begin to slide into a slower August.

I thought that this summer I'd try and make sure that even though we're not planning a 'proper' holiday, I'd attempt to do things a little differently so that it feels like a change from the usual routine. The danger of staying at home I've discovered is that I spend too much time just doing the same old things, so this year I've got a plan...

It's not a hugely outrageous plan, in fact it's probably quite tame, but having thought about what I miss most about holidays I realised it's that I don't give myself time to just sit and read. When we go away I have no problem sitting and reading for hours, but for some reason if we stay at home I just feel guilty doing it, so this August I am going to pretend I'm on holiday and catch up with some of the books I've been stockpiling by the side of the bed for the last few weeks.

Would you like to see the stack?

I suppose you could see some thread or theme running through most of these - a love ofthe English landscape and a desire to learn more about it perhaps.

I bought the WG Hoskins - The Making Of The English Landscape some months ago and I've been dipping in quite often, but most of my reading is done at bedtime and this is a book I'd really like to sit and make notes with - not easy when you're doing your best not to fall asleep.

If you've found me on Instagram you'll know that I'm an avid hedgerow-watcher, so the John Wright - A Natural History of the Hedgerow was a must when I spotted it recently in the bookshop. I've been photographing the hedgerow where I walk the dog for the best part of four years now and I'm beginning to know my way around some of the plants, but the more I get to know it, the more I realise how much I don't know - I'm really hoping this will deepen my awareness.

I'm not sure what I'll make of the Claire Leighton - Four Hedges.To be entirely honest I only skimmed through when I saw it near to the John Wright book, but it has the most wonderful illustrations and it has me intrigued - so I'll let you know what it's all about once I've read it.

The book of poetry by John Clare is another book I've been dipping into for weeks now. I can't believe it took me this long to begin to know Clare's work. It's only been in the last couple of years that I'd even heard of him, but what a remarkable poet he was. I wonder if I've come to appreciate him now as I've begun to appreciate nature at a deeper level - I do have a theory that sometimes we meet the right book at the right time and this might well be an example of that.

Nicholas Crane's - The Making of the British Landscape is almost the most recent addition to the pile and I've barely opened it at all, but having ignited the whole topic with the Hoskins I was fascinated to read a more recent take on the same subject (and anyway I like Crane's style) - I'm going to enjoy getting to this one.

So I think there's definitely some connection between those five titles, but the last two are in the stack simply because they called to me.

Kassia St Clair's - The Secret Lives of Colour was serialised on BBC Radio 4 a few weeks ago - did you hear any of it? I was hooked just from listening, but when I saw the hardback in Topping I was delighted. It's brilliantly put together, laid out in colour sections, it gives you the story around a range of individual colours. This book is perfect for occasional dipping into, but I could just as easily sit and read it cover to cover (and I very well may). If you're at all interested in colours and/or art history do have a look out for this title.

And finally...Frank McLynn - The Road Not Taken just set all my history-junkie juices flowing. It's not about roads - it's about how Britain has narrowly missed having a revolution from 1381 to 1926. Because let's face it, we've come close and sometimes when I listen to the news on the radio I wonder how close we might be coming again. And history is usually written by the winners, so it's refreshing to read about protests from a different perspective - eye-opening in some ways. So far I've read about the Peasant's Revolt and Jack Cade's rebellion - and I can't help thinking we should teach more of this in schools today.

I've never been very good at writing book reviews, so I can't promise to come back and tell you what I thought, but if you've read any of these, do let me know what you thought about them. 

So that's my reading list for now - what are you reading this summer? Do you pick and choose or do you pursue a subject in depth? 

Happy reading!



Feeling the energy...

Well what a week! Thank you to everyone who's followed me over here from Dreaming In Stitches, I really appreciate that very much indeed. And a huge welcome to the new readers who've found your way here too - welcome. 

early elderberries

After all the excitement of going live with A Stitchery Spellbook last weekend I was half expecting this week to be a return to something less frantic, I had a mental image of wafting about in a clean tidy home, scented with fresh laundry and sitting down to stitch with a vaguely beatific smile on my face.  Which as you can imagine isn't exactly what happened. Instead the pile of domestic stuff which I'd probably been ignoring for a bit too long decided to gang up on me and pounce - but anyway, here I am, trying to regain my rhythm and to settle back into what I've occasionally laughingly called my routine....

In the lane...

While I've been out walking the dog this week, it's really struck me how the energy of spring has now given way to something different, something slower and more introspective. The showy blossom season has passed and now we're beginning to see the fruits appear. The energy which was so palpable has turned inwards and it's harder to connect with it as we walk along the lane every morning.

Looking closely it's surely going to be a wonderfully abundant autumn. I've got my eyes on the sloes (so long as I can afford a couple of bottles of gin to pop them in), and judging from the cascades of tiny bullet-hard blackberries that are starting to form, there will be ample blackberry and apple pies this year. But there are also masses of elderberries on their way, acorns aplenty, haws, hips and crab apples by the bucket load and best of all, hazelnuts.

And these are just the things I can spot and know what to do with. I imagine any naturalist worth their salt could easily add to this list of foods for free.

But for all that, the feeling I have in the lane at the moment is almost tiredness. It's not the first time I've experienced this, to me it seems as if all that effort during spring has left it exhausted. Now it's conserving itself, pouring it's energy into the fruits with little left to dazzle the daily dog walker as she ambles past.

Well, that's as it should be. We're all creatures of cycles and rhythms and there are times when we sparkle and times when we just trudge on. The thing is to recognise that and not to fight against it. Sometimes you have to let things roll, put your energies into the place they need to be.

Over the last few years of walking this route every day I've begun to feel these patterns as they happen and now it's much less of a worry than it first felt, now I think I'm beginning to learn to roll with the rhythms too.

In the frame

I'd have to admit that my stitching rhythm's been a bit off lately too. I've been working on this latest Rose Window inspired piece and although there are aspects of it that I'm enjoying, I can't say that I've entirely bonded with it yet. From past experience I know this isn't necessarily a problem, some pieces don't reveal themselves until you've committed quite a lot of work, nevertheless, I can't decide how this one really feels at the moment.

stitched rose window wip detail.jpg

What I'm learning from these Rose Windows is that there is something hypnotic about the shape, and whilst the gothic windows which inspire them are perfectly symmetrical, I rather like bending them, twisting them a little and introducing some leafy curves or petal shapes. It is confined within a circle, a repeated segmentation, but each part is unique. I'm already thinking about the next one - which might be part of the problem - but I'll stay with this one for now and see where we go.

Old Places...

I thought this week was going to be gallivanting-free and devoid of old places but on Monday evening the OH asked if I fancied going with him to Bath again the next day and so off we went at crack of dawn on Tuesday. This time I have to admit my main preoccupation was with books - I may have re-homed a few more, which of course is merely a public service. One of the books I came home with is The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. Did you hear excerpts on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago? Well it's brilliant, buy a hard copy if you're in the smallest bit interested in colours.

(The others (ahem, several in fact) I'll tell you about another day).

To be honest I didn't really do much heritage-wandering on Tuesday apart form the inevitable gazing about that you always do in Bath without even thinking about it. The rain had kept the crowds back down by the Abbey so I took a few pictures of the Abbey front. It's a bit later than many medieval cathedrals, dating from about 1520 and unusually features angels ascending Jacob's Ladder. 

And so there you have it. A week of trying to get back into a routine and not entirely succeeding, but that's alright, I'm going with the flow. Hope you are too. Do you have any tips for riding the ups and downs of energy levels? I feel that women of a certain age are probably the world experts on energy levels, but that's another story.

As always, you'll find me on Instagram and Twitter most days, it would be lovely to hear from you there or here anytime. 

Happy stitching x

Welcome to my new home...

Well hello again! Thanks so much for taking the time to find me at A Stitchery Spellbook, my new online home.

Hello again...

As you can imagine, just as with any new space you move into there are some things that I'm learning about and others I may well want to change, but you have to start somewhere and the danger of not just getting on with it is that I'll try and wait until everything is perfect, and we all know when that will be don't we.

So it may still be a bit creaky and rough around the edges, but I've moved in now and it's up to me to mould it into the kind of place I want it to be. I really appreciate you coming to say hello.

Just so you know, you can use the sign up box in the sidebar if you'd like to receive new posts by email into your inbox. I think it works! (well I've tried it, but obviously if you spot any issues, do let me know, please). Otherwise you'll need to update your blog reader with the address of this new site www.astitcheryspellbook/blog if you want to see new posts there (and I really hope you do!).

Also in the sidebar is a sign up for Loose Threads - the roughly monthly collection of bits and pieces that I send out in addition to the posts here. If you signed up previously at Dreaming In Stitches you'll carry on receiving them, no need to do anything. If you'd like to receive Loose Threads but haven't signed up before, just pop your name and email in the box in the sidebar and you'll be added to our growing community of mad stitchy, history-geeky and nature-loving bods.

So here I am now in a space that is properly my own. It feels exciting and a little bit scary too. 

If you're wondering why the change, well, I'd decided it was time to have a sort out. I'd managed to get a bit spread out online over the years (too much listening to the niche-marketers probably) and I was never quite brave enough to commit to owning my own space before. 

But this year things have felt different. I'm finally comfortable with the weirdly eccentric mix of things I like to talk about and it turns out other people are ok with it too, I've realised just how much I love being part of this whole online community of similarly diverse and fascinating people, and I've proved to myself that I can put in the effort to show up regularly. 

So the time is right for a fresh start. A Stitchery Spellbook will take over from Dreaming In Stitches as the home for my stitchy, history and nature ramblings, the gallery of my stitch-work and the hub of my online activity. You'll still be able to access Dreaming In Stitches to view any old content there, but moving forward this is where you'll find me from now on.

I very much hope you'll visit often and stay for a chat.

Happy stitching

Anny x



An Alternative Tour Around Bath

 Well another busy week under the belt. I did manage one little history-junkie’s treat this week but I’m going to save that for another day, instead I thought we’d go on an alternative tourist-cum-shopping trip around my favourite town in England - Bath.

Now Bath is one of those towns whose history goes back to pre-Roman times and where heritage drips from every street corner. I’m lucky to be able to go a few times each year and spend a day wandering around the streets, doing the whole tourist bit and generally enjoying the atmosphere.

I’m going to assume that if you went you’d be similarly bowled over by all the gorgeous Georgianess everywhere, so I’m not going to dwell on that - let’s just agree that this is actually the best bit and it’s the scene-setting for the following suggestions.

Oh and before I start, if it is your first visit to Bath, you simply have to see the main attractions - go straight to the Roman Baths and get in the queue, then pop over to the Abbey and then leg it up to the Assembly Rooms and then up again to the Royal Crescent via the Circus.

But if you’ve done those before and you have a few hours to spare - this is what I’d do.

Country Threads

I’d pop into Country Threads in Pierrepont Place down near the railway station. This little shop has quite possibly the best collection of printed cottons you could ask for. I regularly spend a small fortune in there and I don’t even quilt. Be warned, time can go strangely quirky in there - remember British Rail time…

Guildhall Market

Next I’d walk up to Bath’s Guildhall Market. Inside there are about 20 different stalls including two that I always make a point of visiting - Skoobs Bookstall, which has every second hand book you ever wanted (well ok, maybe an exaggeration, but they are seriously good, especially if you’re looking for series of books. My OH is working his way through the Patrick O’Brian’s at the moment and I’ve had no end of detective fiction from there - and the other must-see for me is Not Cartiers, which has so much bling it will make your eyes water, but you’ll be crying with happiness when you spot the prices. It’s a little jewellery cavern, twinkling with diamanté and I defy you not to fall in love with something small and shiny.

Pulteney Bridge

Once I’ve managed to tear myself away from the market I’d probably be looking for lunch. The Bridge Cafe on Pulteney Bridge has the advantage of windows overlooking the weir - and last time I went, they made an excellent cheese salad sandwich. (This isn't really a general recommendation, it's just that finding a decent cheese salad sandwich can be quite a challenge and I was delighted to have a freshly made one here on my last visit)


Fortified with tea and cake I’d leg it up to Toppings bookshop at The Paragon. Bookshop again I hear you shout - well yes, nothing at all wrong with spending all day doing a bookshop crawl (ahem, Hay-on-Wye - just saying)…

The Fashion Museum

Then I’d stroll along, detouring to walk past the Assembly Rooms. If you have time, the Fashion Museum under the Assembly Rooms is a real treat, both for the clothes which are fascinating, but also because they let you dress up (and we’re not just talking children here - they positively encourage us grown-ups todress up too! Do it, I promise it will make you laugh, but only go if you have time, it isn’t cheap and you’ll want to stay and have fun.

The Royal Crescent

After that walk along to the Royal Crescent. There’s something so ostentatious and at the same time so restrained about the Royal Crescent, I can’t make my mind up about it and you really do have to pay homage to the architects at least once on your visit. Still, you get to peep in through the windows and wonder about what it’s like living inside.

Victoria Park

My next stop would depend on whether the family were with me or not. If they were, we’d undoubtedly be going to play a round of crazy golf at the Victoria Falls Crazy Golf course in Victoria Park. This has become a family tradition, something we do whatever the weather (and yes, even torrential rain can’t stop us). You may not feel a similar need, I absolutely understand.

The Georgian Garden

Alternatively on the other side of the road is a little gateway at the back of some townhouses which takes you to the Georgian Garden - and it proves that there is beauty in small packages. Pop in there instead for a moment or two of calm.

Bath Abbey

Afterwards I’d make my way back into the centre of town and stroll around the Abbey. This is a beautiful building from every angle. If the tower is open go up and see the city from up there, it’s quite something.

And after all that you'll have earned yourself an ice-cream at the very least!

And there we have it, a wonky circuit of sorts. A mixture of mildly eccentric shops set in a glorious creamy Georgian dreamworld - or so it seems to me.

I’d love to know what are your Bath highlights. Which places do you always visit and why. Hopefully I’ll be back again during the summer, so any suggestions gratefully received.

Oh and just so you know, there are public toilets down near Debenhams (modern and generally acceptable), just past Waitrose (a bit dodgy looking but generally ok) and over at the Pavillion in Victoria Park. Plus of course pubs etc. 










That time of year...

I wonder, is there a time in your annual calendar you refer to as ‘that time of year’? For us it is always June and July. During these two months we squeeze the best part of our entire annual social life into about six weekends of frantic travelling about the country, bell-ringing with very old friends and generally meeting up with people we only see at this time of year.

It’s always a pleasure, but it does tend to throw you off your routine and I’m now right in the middle of our busiest period. Which would make this a terrible time to choose to embark on something new, something that requires a lot of learning from scratch or something that’s extremely time-consuming…you can guess where this is going can’t you.


So yes, on top of all the other things that are happening at the moment, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to grips with building a new website. If you saw my post a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I found the initial stage quite a challenge. For someone who spends such a lot of time quietly stitching, I’m really not naturally a patient person, and trying to teach myself new things doesn’t always bring out the best in me.

But I’m pleased to say I bit my lip and got on with it. Inevitably once you really get down to something eventually it comes together. I’m now at the ‘playing with it stage‘ so I won’t ask you to race over and have a look just yet, but don’t worry, once it feels ok I’ll give you all the details.

I’ve been blogging now for nearly ten years in one guise or another and over that time I’ve changed so much and so indeed has the whole blogging community. For many people their blog has been superseded by other social media, especially Instagram, which it has to be said does make micro-blogging much easier to do and also it makes connecting with people who’re interested in what you have to say much easier too. Then there are so many people who simply seem to have run out of blogging steam. I miss hearing from them, but life changes and things move on.

The major change for me in recent years has been finding a balance between the three things that go to my core; observing the rhythms of the seasons, evangelising for Britain’s old places and creating slow-stitched pieces of art. Now I finally feel properly at home with what I’m doing and it’s come as such a relief. Thank you to everyone who has born with me chopping and changing, and the frequent dithering over past months and years.

I will never cease to be amazed that I can now speak directly to friends, artists, nature-lovers and history geeks across the globe with just a few clicks, and it is being a part of this truly incredible online community that makes me certain that although the format evolves, I’m definitely happy and grateful to carry on being a part of it.

So when the new website goes live, it will be evolution rather than revolution. Still the same haphazard mix of content, hopefully better presented, more flexible for what I might want to do in future and importantly under my own control.

And so after all that, you may well be going never mind all that waffle Anny, where’s this week’s dollop of heritage?

Well, I hope you’ll forgive me this week for not coming up with an entirely new piece. What with website building, weekends with friends, children ferrying and general spinning of plates, I’ve simply not sat down to do it properly. So instead here is a flavour of what we get up to on our annual ringing get-togethers from a couple of years ago and which first appeared on my old history blog.



The wonderful thing about being a history junkie living in England, is the prevalence of parish churches. Every one of them is a little time capsule, telling stories about our national, regional and very personal histories. I love looking at them for what their architecture tells us about their building history and then going inside, or walking around the graveyards and seeing the human histories remembered in tombs, memorials, windows and simple graves.

At the weekend, we visited four churches, all fairly close together in the Warwickshire/Worcestershire borders. Each very different in character, and each a piece in the jigsaw puzzle of our past. None is particularly exceptional, but that’s the wonderful thing about them, wherever you go, a fascinating journey into history is waiting for you.

St Mary, Ullenhall, Warwickshire

This was our first stop. A strange little church, with a mix of architectural styles that can mean only one thing – Victorian! It was designed by John Pollard Seddon and built in 1875.

You need to walk around the outside to get a full impression – the rear is much prettier than the front, but you can’t tell from first glances. For me the clock face up on the odd little spire was the best bit.

St Mary Magdalene, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire

Tanworth-in-Arden is one of those perfect villages where you imagine Miss Marple would feel at home, wisteria and hollyhocks around the doors. And the church lives up to that ideal too, standing right in the centre of the village.

There were people rehearsing in the church so we didn’t have a proper look around inside, but the cool interior felt serene.

Outside an unusual monument butts right up to the side door, but I couldn’t read the inscriptions, so I don’t know who it commemorated. One face appears to have had a new piece of stone inserted – it’s obviously still important to someone.

I didn’t know at the time, but Nick Drake’s ashes were interred in the churchyard and somehow that seems to fit well with the character of the music he left behind.

St Leonard’s, Beoley, Worcestershire.

This is another church close to a big town but hidden away on the side of a hill. A huge mixture of styles reflecting the age of the church, but I couldn’t help feeling that the hand of the Victorian renovator had been a bit overpowering.

There is a chapel to the left of the chancel – the Sheldon Chapel – built in 1580 for a recusant family, which was a peculiarly oversize attachment. I always want to see the faces of these effigies, but it was very difficult to get into a suitable position. I held the camera where I thought it should be and hoped.

This whole area, Worcestershire and Warwickshire was deeply embroiled in the turbulent religious times and politics of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with many characters involved in the Gunpowder Plot living in the region, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find the chapel there.

When we came home and I looked up Beoley, I found this lovely story which connects Shakespeare with Beoley – if you have a few minutes have a read and see what you think.

St Mary the Virgin, Hanbury, Worcestershire


Now I must admit that I am not an impartial visitor to Hanbury. I spent the first twenty years of my life very close to Hanbury and it has a special place in my heart. That said, I’m sure anyone would find it a fascinating if not classically beautiful church.

The Vernon family who built and lived in Hanbury Hall (now managed by the National Trust)are closely connected to the church, with many of them buried in the Vernon Chapel. I rather like the marble figures in all their finery. I especially liked the juxtaposition of medieval door with the marble statue.

However, the very best thing about Hanbury is the position of the church itself, perched on top of a hill, with wide-open views across to the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills. Long before the church was built, there was an Iron Age hilltop fort there. Later the Saxons built a monastery on the site.

It’s exactly the sort of churchyard where you could sit and contemplate life the universe and everything.

A truly enjoyable afternoon of exploring.

Back next week, when we’ll still be in that time of year, but hopefully I’ll be better prepared. Having said that, I’m giving a talk to the Embroiderers’ Guild over in Northamptonshire next weekend, so that might be a bit optimistic!

Best wishes and happy stitching…

A Stitchery Spellbook first entries...

Hello and thank you so much for joining me here.

Welcome to my Stitchery Spellbook.

I'm a slow-stitching textile artist who divides her time unequally and unpredictably between stitching, walking the dog, visiting old places, reading, writing, mucking out teenage daughters, cooking, cleaning and generally trying to prevent too many spinning plates hitting the floor.

Why A Spellbook?

Many artists keep sketchbooks to record their ideas and experiments, but I've never really been able to settle into a sketchbook practice. What works for me is to take lots of photographs of the things that set my creative juices bubbling, things like hedgerows, woodlands, country lanes, old ruins, castles, standing stones, stained-glass windows, gothic cathedrals, country churches, weathered stone and wild landscapes and let them all stew in the melting-pot of my imagination.

Also thrown in for good measure will be snippets of poetry, facts, thoughts, ideas, words, meditations and colours.

What the process is that takes these various ingredients, stirs them about and eventually turns them into inspiration for a piece of stitched art, well, I couldn't say. Everyone I think has their own way to describe inspiration. My particular favourite is the druidic concept of awen, but you will have your own. Could we agree that it's magic? Or at least magical...

So instead of a sketchbook, this is A Stitchery Spellbook. A place to keep those photographs, words and ideas, a place to record the events, thoughts and pictures that have slipped into the imagination and a place to show the results of the stitchiness they provoke. Perhaps they in turn will be an inspiration for you or other people to express something that's important to you too.

Whether you're a stitcher, history-junkie, wildlife-lover, wordsmith, art-lover or simply happy to dream, you are very welcome here. Please dip in and become part of the story. You can find me here, on Twitter or Instagram and I'm always delighted to say hello.

Very best wishes and happy stitching.

Anny x


Croft Castle at its beguiling best...

Have I ever told you that there's a parallel universe where I live in Croft Castle? It's right up there in my top 5 favourite places to visit and this may surprise you, because to be brutally honest, it isn't exactly an A-list historical attraction. But there's something about the house (it isn't really a proper castle) that enthralled me on my first visit, way back in the 1970s and it still has me firmly in its power.

Have I ever told you that there's a parallel universe where I live in Croft Castle? It's right up there in my top 5 favourite places to visit and this may surprise you, because to be brutally honest, it isn't exactly an A-list historical attraction. But there's something about the house (it isn't really a proper castle) that enthralled me on my first visit, way back in the 1970s and it still has me firmly in its power.

Of course you might not feel it too, I understand that, but I'm sure that at some time in your life you'll have been somewhere and immediately felt comfortable and at home. There's just that certain feeling that makes you feel welcome, where you quickly relax - well that's Croft Castle for me. 

And try as I might, I can't entirely decide what it is about it that creates that atmosphere, all I can say is, I've never visited and not experienced it.

I'll tell you what I love seeing while I'm there though. 

The trees

Croft has the most amazing collection of ancient trees. If 300 year old Spanish Chestnuts float your boat, this is the place for you. There are many other species too, old, gnarled, venerable. It could easily claim to be worthy of a visit for these alone.

the walled garden

Ok, I'll admit it, I'm jealous of anyone who has a walled garden, and the one at Croft is my absolute favourite. There are fig trees in the corners, gates that lead off into the parkland and frame the views, masses of fruit trees, a vineyard! Forget the house, spend an entire visit in the garden (they put deck chairs out for you to relax in, how thoughtful is that).

the library

It's a toss up whether the Library or the Oak Room is my favourite room in the house. The library might just have it though, because it's probably the most elegant library I've seen and I love the white bookcases, oh and there's a tiny turret room off to the corner where I can imagine hiding for days while I read my way through some enormous novel.

the portraits

Now don't get too excited. These are not Gainsboroughs or Holbeins. But when you visit Croft Castle you can't ignore the number of portraits that look at you from every wall. They're a mixed bunch, a smattering of royal rip-offs, but mostly family members going back for a few hundred years. I wonder if those are what really give the place it's special atmosphere. It's difficult to walk through the rooms where the same people once lived without feeling some connection with them, and they look such a very normal lot, you feel as if you'd quite like to know them better.

And finally, the church...

Don't you think it's so classy to have your own church quite literally on the doorstep? St Michael's is tiny, but it pre-dates the current house and I can't visit without imagining it as a wedding venue (provided you didn't have a large family to accommodate). Wouldn't it be so romantic to be able to walk from the door to the church and back.

But in fact my top favourite thing of all at Croft is inside the church, and it's the tomb of Sir Richard and Dame Eleanor Croft. This couple were right at the heart of the events of the Wars of the Roses. He fought at all the key battles from 1461 - including Mortimer's Cross, which took place on his land nearby and which saw Edward IV assuming the crown. Eleanor was governess to Edward's sons, the tragic Princes in the Tower. They both lived long lives through immensely turbulent times - no mean feat. I can't visit Croft without going into the church to stand and have a few moments contemplating the lives of two people separated by centuries but somehow still so intriguing.

Visit Croft Castle if you have the opportunity (even if it's just to tell me I'm completely overreacting).

Where is your special place? If it's somewhere we should visit, do let us know. Please leave a comment below.

Visitor Information

Croft Castle is still lived in by members of the Croft family, but it is managed by the National Trust. Click here to go to the official website and check opening times, prices and events.

A Rose Window in fabric and stitch.

It won't come as any surprise if you know me from Instagram or Dreaming In Stitches to hear that I'm deeply attracted to stained glass windows. For some time I've been trying out techniques and materials in an effort to bring something of the essence of stained glass into my stitch work.

Rose Window: a hand-stitched textile work incorporating fabric and threads on a linen scrim canvas.

Rose Window: a hand-stitched textile work incorporating fabric and threads on a linen scrim canvas.

It was always extremely difficult to do so when I was working exclusively in hand-stitched needlepoint, relying on the nature of the threads to add lustre and shine, either using silks or metallic yarns. But in recent months I've been broadening my practice to explore a wider application of stitch and now incorporating fibres and materials.

This is the first piece that's come together which begins to have an element of the translucence I'm seeking. 

What I'm discovering is that by varying the types of fabric, from opaque cottons, through glossy silks to fine organza and by overstitching all the fabrics with silk and metallic threads, I'm able to create a piece that works with the light.

In the same way that a stained glass window will look different depending on the level of light coming through the glass or the amount of light inside the building, the stitched work which has become heavily textural from dense stitching catches light in unexpected and unpredictable ways.

I'm encouraged by the results, I wouldn't say I'd achieved what I see in my mind's eye, but at last I'm beginning to find ways to experiment that I hope will bring me closer to my goal.

There's one problem though which is giving me a bit of a headache. I'm finding it difficult to photograph these dimensional pieces in ways that give a good reproduction of the actual piece in the flesh. It's not helped by living in a north-facing house with tricky windows, but I guess that's just part of the exploration process - and I've always wanted to learn more about taking photos!

Watch this space, there will be more stained glass inspired work to come.

I'm always delighted to talk about textile art and all things stitchy. Do leave a comment or get in touch.