Wow, it’s been umm, 3 months? Sorry about that. It’s hard to actually remember what I’ve spent all summer doing – working, sewing, and sleeping probably sums it up – but I’ve been pretty lax in doing stuff and taking my camera out to document it.
On the rather soggy bank holiday Monday I was invited to take a trip into the world of A Door in a Wall, who put on immersive, interactive games set in real-world locations. Their latest production, The Life and Death of Paul Marrane, has just opened so I assembled a crack adventure team (um, my boyfriend and sister) and headed down to Poplar to check it out.
I went to the V&A on Monday with my sister, ostensibly to check out some of the London Design Festival installations and exhibitions. But, box of wonders that it is, we ended up having a good root around some of its other corners – there’s always something new to find and admire.
My sister works at the V&A so it’s especially great to visit with her and be given a guided tour of some of the more hidden areas and her personal favourites.
I love Cornelia Parker’s work; ‘Breathless’, an arrangement of flattened brass instruments, sits in a double-height circular space allowing you to view it from above or below.
A 16th century ‘soundboard’ complete with a dazzling array of semi-precious stones.
Beautifully ornate floral chair
Canova’s Three Graces
A collection of puzzle jugs nestled in the ceramics galleries. I like how the V&A isn’t all priceless and important antiquities, there’s plenty of quirk in there too.
The contemporary ceramics gallery; many contenders here for my favourite game of ‘what would I take home with me given the choice’. I think today’s winner would be those gorgeous geometric vases or the perky pigeons.
Here’s some of the actual design festival stuff. I liked how it was dotted throughout the museum like a treasure hunt, with most pieces thoughtfully playing off the permanent exhibits nearby.
‘Ama’ by Michael Anastassiades, a tribute to Japanese pearl-diving women.
‘Double Space’ by designers Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby, two huge reflective structures resembling plane wings which slowly rotate around the ceiling of the Raphael Gallery, reflecting the vast cartoons.
‘Candela’ by Felix de Pass, Michael Montgomery and Ian McIntyre; a hypnotic rotating disc with light projections set up in the dim tapestry gallery.
Zaha Hadid’s ‘Crest’ across the garden’s pool.
We spotted Paul Smith and Terence Conran posing outside ‘Paul’s Shed’ by Nathalie de Leval. Cate has some pics of the inside of the shed.
The marble staircase made a pretty backdrop for my newest handmade dress too!
The Design Festival runs until the 21st Sept, so there’s still time to get down there and have look at it all.
A couple of weeks ago now, we went up to Alexandra Palace to take a history tour, which we quickly booked up after joining the email notification list. Perched atop a big hill overlooking North London, it’s not far from us though quite a shlep on a couple of twisty bus routes to get there. You’re rewarded with quite a lovely view from the surrounding park though.
The tour promised never-heard stories from Ally Pally’s very interesting history as well as offering behind the scenes glimpses into the parts of the palace that are rarely seen by the public. In its time it’s been a Victorian theatre and entertainment venue, BBC TV and radio studio, railway station, exhibition hall, concert venue and ice rink amongst quite a lot else.
Our guide explained that the palace is in the process of securing funds from the council and Lottery to restore and make public even more of the palace to bring it back to its original function as a wide-reaching entertainment venue.
The tour started in the old Victorian theatre, which was definitely also the highlight of the tour. The theatre was amongst the first to use mechanics to move scenery and allow for special effects like actors ‘disappearing’ into the floor. A project to restore the machinery is currently underway; there are also long-term plans to level out the sloped floor to allow the space to be used for a wider range of events.
We wandered down some fairly spooky back corridors, passing the artists’ entrance where bands show up to play concerts.
The old railway station is at the back of the building. Sadly just a few weeks after the palace and railway station opened in 1873, a fire destroyed nearly the whole building and the railway services stopped. Restoration work began in the 30s, but the war stopped it again and the line was eventually made defunct. (Part of the same disused line makes up the lovely Parkland Walk now.)
The final stop was the Great Hall, where concerts and exhibitions take place – from All Tomorrow’s Parties to the Knitting and Stitching Show. This part of the building also burned down in another fire in 1980, so the grand organ and its surrounds are all new but reproduced as they would have been.
The tour was okay: I felt like we didn’t see all that much that wasn’t open to the public anyway. I would have liked to have seen some of the old BBC studios as well, but they are apparently unsafe to actually be in and are awaiting restoration funds. But it was worth it to see the old theatre and to have an ice cream in the park on a nice sunny day. You can sign up here to be notified of future tours.
Picking special presents year after year can be a bit of a pain, especially when you’re like us and have no room left in your flat for any more physical objects! That’s why I love giving and receiving ‘experiences’ instead: dinner, cooking classes, something that you can enjoy and/or learn from rather than accumulating more stuff. So when Truly contacted me I was pretty excited. Their premise is great: you pick from a fantastic range of do-able gifts – especially strong on restaurants and food experiences but there are spa days, city breaks and outdoor activities too. Put in your recipient’s address and they get a lovely smart box in the post with a simple number/email to contact Truly’s concierge and make the reservation. No messing around booking something and hoping they are free on the date (or ruining the surprise by asking), but you can still pick out something personal.
Truly kindly gave me the chance to try one of their experiences out, and I opted for Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Capital Hotel. I invited my wonderful mum along because she’s a little envious of all the nice things Josh and I do in London, so it was great to be able to share something with her. She was delighted to get the box in the post and phoned me immediately to say thank you! She was down in London last weekend so we got the chance to book it up.
The Capital hotel is literally around the corner from Harrods. I’d never ever been in Harrods before, so a nose round the food hall was mandatory (wow, it’s busy in there). Tea is served in a pretty and cosy sitting room – with wallpaper and books lining the walls and a window open to the pleasant day outside it was a lovely place to spend the afternoon. We started with a glass of champagne while browsing the extensive tea menu.
Before long a tiered stand laden with goodies arrived. Delicate finger sandwiches on the bottom and a whole plate of sweet things for each of us – treacle tart, passion fruit tart, lemon sponge, baby trifle and a hibiscus maracon. They were all delicious – the moist sponge and creamy tart especially. If you run out or particularly enjoyed anything, the waiters will gladly restock it for you.
There was only one vegetarian sandwich but I didn’t even think to ask for a replacement; I’m sure they would have switched one of the others for a veggie option if requested. Never mind, more room for cake!
Just when we were reaching peak cake, freshly baked scones arrived with cream and jam. They were so buttery and flaky – my Devon-raised mum approved. You can even pack up anything you don’t eat into takeout boxes.
One happy mum and some serious daughter points for me! This was a great experience and my mum really appreciated it. Truly have this and loads of other luxurious gift experiences on their site including lots of Michelin-starred restaurants like The Square, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (which I reviewed here), Hakkasan and La Manoir. Any would do for my birthday present, in case you’re wondering. Thanks, Truly! Anyone else love to give or receive foody gifts?
Truly supplied my afternoon tea experience for review; views are my own
I apologise for it being blogger-perk frenzy round here at the moment. I’ve had a good run lately! The latest was the chance to try the tasting menu with matching wine selection at Michelin-starred restaurant L’Atelier Joel Robuchon, on the borders of Covent Garden and Soho, where a new executive chef (Xavier Boyer) and pastry chef (Francois Delaire) have just been appointed.
We started by going up the first floor for a delicious cocktail in the plushy bar. There’s a lovely terrace which on this warm evening was full.
Downstairs, we were seated at the central bar with a view directly into the working kitchen. Quite uniquely for a Michelin restaurant, the food is informally served by the bar staff/waiters, as was the wine for each course. I really liked this less stuffy approach and our waiters were relaxed and funny – a nice change from formal fine dining.
In what must be a first, L’Atelier Joel Robuchon is a Michelin-starred French restaurant with a vegetarian tasting menu. Gosh, I do love the treat of seeing a list of delicious-sounding food where I can eat all of it!
Each course was beautifully dainty and almost too pretty to eat. It was a real ode to the humble and lovely vegetable, whether a mushroom whipped into a silky veloute or an heirloom tomato simply dressed and served zingily red in a martini glass with pickles and flowers.
Asparagus with comte; a beautiful girolle and truffle risotto; crisped glazed tofu with wild mushrooms. It was all perfectly pitched and a delight to eat. Unlike some tasting menus, the pacing and portion size were spot on: it never felt like an onslaught and I didn’t feel uncomfortably full at the end.
Josh went for the omnivore tasting menu; he declared the ox cheek gyoza to be a particular standout dish. Personally I loved the blingy gold toast rack and gilt leaf on the caviar and salmon starter.
As a special side we were given some of the infamous Robuchon pommes puree, made with 50% butter to 50% potato. Jeez, I could feel my arteries furring up as I ate it but it is just so good I didn’t care.
The dainty portions meant we had space for dessert, hurrah. Josh’s was a beautiful physics-defying orb of shiny gold, with a delicate citrus mousse inside.
I had an equally gorgeous concoction; light as air milk chocolate mousse with bitter dark chocolate sorbet and Oreo crumbs.
Each course was matched with the sommelier’s selection of wine, and wow – they were all utterly amazing. I don’t know much about wine at all, but I loved how our choices featured some really unusual ones with tasting notes like smoke, mushroom, cellar, and minerals. Even the dessert wine which I don’t usually drink was a sweet, light red that was perfect with the chocolate.
This was one of the most enjoyable fine dining experiences I’ve had; partly for the superb food and partly for the unique relaxed ambiance and friendly service. For a special occasion meal I would certainly go back.
I was a guest of L’Atelier Joel Robuchon for my dinner; views my own.
I was treated to a preview of the V&A’s new Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 exhibition last week. It opened to everyone at the weekend, so here’s a peek at some of my favourite things on show.
The ground floor charts dresses from the 18th century up to the mid-20th century. You can clearly see the styles changing through the years and the influence that factors such as wealth and location had on the dress a woman chose. Above, some elaborately hand-worked 18th century dresses.
I love the print of this humble cotton dress, worn by a farm labourer in the 1830s.
A steam-moulded Victorian corset to be worn under a dress – yikes.
Another stunning 30s dress, bias cut silk with a slightly more subtle train, again worn by a society lady.
A silver lamé bridesmaids’ dress for a Jewish wedding, from just up the road in Stamford Hill.
Not every dress is white: a purple coat dress handmade by its wearer in the 1890s, and a gorgeous red shirt dress from the 30s.
The show is interspersed with little personal touches: fabric swatches, shoes and floral crowns and real quotations written on the walls, which makes it feel intimate and personal. This show really celebrates the bride herself.
Moving upstairs, this section covers the 1960s onwards and contains most of the star draws of the exhibition. Firstly, Kate Moss’s dress from her wedding to Jamie Hince.
The Galliano dress is even more stunning in the flesh as it was in the photos at the time: it’s got over a quarter of a million gold sequins as well as pearl beads and paillons which took over 700 hours to complete.
Another Galliano creation and one of my all-time favourites, Gwen Stefani’s dip-dyed dress. Great to see all the punk-influenced lacing and strapping on the back. Ugly shoes though!
Dita von Teese’s typically retiring shimmery purple gown
Modern dresses with influences from the 60s and 30s.
A pretty 60s tea dress, designed by its wearer
A modern Ghanian wedding ensemble in traditional wax prints. I thought the show was a little too Western-orientated overall – it would have been nice to see more dresses from other cultures.
Interesting and beautiful craftsmanship techniques: roses applied to the veil with rubber, and the Duchess of Cornwall’s handpainted silk coat.
Even if like me you don’t have much interest in weddings, there is plenty to be enthralled by here. The changing fashions through time, the craftsmanship and the social and historical influences are all fascinating and make this show well worth a visit. The exhibition runs at the V&A until next March; you can find out more and order tickets here.
Translated to ‘rags’ in English, boro is the collective name for items – usually clothing and bed covers – made by the poor, rural population of Japan who could not afford to buy new when need required and had to literally make ends meet by piecing and patching discarded cotton onto existing sets, forming something slightly different each time they did so. Generations of Japanese families repaired and recycled fishermen’s jackets to futon covers, handing them down to the next and weaving their own sagas and stories through the threads.
Cotton was an expensive and sought-after material in rural Japan, so worn-out clothing was passed along and used as futon/bed coverings, the worn-out parts re-worked and replaced with new patches as necessary. The pieces are beautiful and mesmerising to look at, so have been appropriated as highly collectible artworks in Western countries. As a sewist, I was particularly fascinated to get up close and see the various woven patterns, fabric combinations, dyeing and embroidery techniques used to create such a richly textured surface.
Varying lengths and patterns of hand-stitches for decorative texture.
I love these dense rows of stitches: nothing is measured or straight, and it doesn’t matter. It seems to tie into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: imperfect beauty.
Some of these patch-pieced ones look like English fields seen from an aeroplane.
Look close and you’ll see layer upon layer of patterns and textures. Woven patterns remind me of ikat, one of my favourite types of fabric, and some pieces seemed to have had patterns created by resist-dyeing and shibori-stle knotting and folding techniques.
You can see why the pieces are compared to art works: some have the Cubist arrangement of a Picasso or Mondrian, where others seem freely expressive like a Pollock or late Matisse.
This was my favourite, the decorative embroidery looks like mystical cave symbols, and the tan corduroy with the shades of indigo is gorgeous. It was very inspiring to look at a different way of combining and manipulating materials, and really makes me want to create an abstract hand-pieced and -embroidered quilt. The free exhibition runs until 26th April, daily 10.00-18.00. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Josh and I made the trip to West London on Friday to check out the V&A Friday Lates. They open the museum extra late and put on installations, talks, exhibitions and interactive sessions to complement the shows that are going on in the museum. Last Friday’s theme was “Adornment’ to coincide with the current Pearls show (I saw this last weekend too, it’s excellent) and it covered fashion and tattooing as well as jewellery.
Sadly I missed the talk I wanted to see due disorganisation, but we swung by the Skin Deep session put on by Brothers of the Stripe, where you could watch the collective doing a live drawing installation and make yourself a rubber-stamped tattoo poster to take away.
We also saw a fashion show by E Wha Lim in the Medieval & Renaissance hall. Her surreal work was beautifully complemented by the surroundings.
It was also just great to roam the museum ‘after hours’. We popped to the Japan section…
… and my favourite place, the jewellery hall.
Is it just me who likes to play pretend I’m shopping and pick what I’d most like to take home?
I think this was the last Lates of the year, but check the site for next year’s events.
Not much will drag me out to West London, but one that definitely will is the promise of transport nerdery. This Saturday (after spending the morning viewing the Cheapside Hoard with Kathryn – phew, culture all over) we trundled way over to Acton Town to visit the London Transport Museum Depot‘s open day.
Emerging from the attractive 1930s tube station, the museum depot is directly opposite. The first big clue is the vintage buses giving tours in and out of the entrance.
In the giant warehouse space, upstairs houses a huge collection of station signage and maps dating from the 1920s up the present day. It was fascinating to see how the map changed over time.
Some nice type specimens to spot along the way, including a plan chest stuffed with the Johnson Underground typeface blocks.
Downstairs is an assortment of cool old machinery: ticket machines, whole kiosks, signal boxes, clocks and so on.
And there are a load of old buses and tube carriages – reminding me of the Brooklyn museum. But cooler ;)
I don’t know if this is a regular fixture, but on the day we visited there were a bunch of stalls selling ephemera: postcards, old maps and brochures, decommissioned signs and stickers, and so on. We scored some great stuff: old place nameplates, a deadstock moquette seat cover and some postcards and stickers, all for very cheap.
I’m so glad that such an effort is being made to store all this historical stuff and show it off to the public. If you fancy visiting – and I highly recommend it – there are monthly open days and regular guided tours. Check out the site for the next available dates.