ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Week in Paradise

After two days in Florence we picked up our car and headed to San Gimignano. My husband seemed to fret for weeks about driving out of the Florence airport, but it was quite straightforward and we made it to San Gimignano without a hitch (the GPS we rented was invaluable!).

Arriving at our Agriturismo, Guardastelle, we found ourselves driving up a lane lined with cypress strees. An Agriturismo is basically a farm vacation, and there are such accommodations all over Italy. Susanna and Fausto, the young couple who run Guaradastelle with a passion, also grow grapes and produce wine.
We had a bedroom called "Sybile" in the main farmhouse. There are also several small cottages scattered around the property.
You can imagine my delight on my first morning at Guardastelle, when I woke, looked out my window and saw this paradise:
Each morning we enjoyed the Tuscan landscape while eating breakfast on this beautiful patio. I also sat here at night, under a Tuscan moon and stars, listening to the crickets sing while I checked my email.
The scenery everywhere around this area was classic Tuscany: peaceful, idyllic and beautiful.
We were so busy seeing the sights that I didn't even get into the pool until the last day. I wished I had had an additional week in which to relax at Guardastelle and use the pool daily.
From the patio, the town of San Gimignano with its medieval towers and walls was only a 1 km walk (3 km drive) away. Using my zoom lens I was able to bring the sight closer.
San Gimignano is a beautiful town, and you will see some of its doors, windows, walls and arches in a future blog post. Shopping there is also great, and I enjoyed it more than Florence because the shops are concentrated in a small area and geared at tourists. Although tour buses visit San Gimignano daily, there are still many quiet streets you can enjoy on any day, good restaurants, and lots of gelato and cappucino!
In my next post I will share some of the achingly beautiful sights we captured in the countryside and small medieval villages we visited.

Tuscany: Florence

I have always said that before I turn 50 I want to see Italy and Greece. Instead I have managed to see Italy twice before my impending 50th birthday. We just returned from a 10 day trip in Tuscany (two nights in Florence and seven nights at an Agriturismo in San Gimignano). My husband and I both fell in love with Italy last summer during our trip to the Amalfi Coast, and knew in a future trip Tuscany would be our destination. Virtually everything about the trip was perfect, although the weather was a little hot. Most days saw the thermometer rise to 36 degrees celsius. It is not unusual to see 30 to 32 celsius on a summer day in Ottawa, but I tend to stay indoors in air conditioned comfort on those days. Italy is just too beautiful to spend your time indoors. It helped that there was no humidity like we experience in Ottawa, and that we had an air conditioned car and room, and a swimming pool in San Gimignano. Still there were days the heat slowed me down but I tried to pace myself and cool myself with gelato :-)

We started out in Florence. Florence is not a large city (certainly not anywhere near the size of Rome) so it is easily walkable, and what I love is that much of it is blocked to cars so there isn't the intense traffic of Rome. There were, however, a lot of tourists in Florence!
I was thrilled to see Michaelangelo's David. While the original is housed in the Academia Gallery (which we visited, but were not allowed to take pictures), there are two copies of David elsewhere in Florence, this one in the Palazzo Vecchio. The sculpture stands over 14 feet, and took three years for Michaelangelo to complete.
We also toured the Uffizi Gallery, which contains many other Renaissance masterpieces, such as the Birth of Venus by Boticelli.

The Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore) spans several blocks and dominates the skyline of Florence. I never did see the inside of it as I simply didn't have the patience to stand in a line of tourists that was several blocks long. Construction of the Duomo began in the 1200's, although it is built on the site of an earlier church.
The Ponte Vecchia (Vecchia bridge) is just as beautiful in person as in the tourist brochures. This bridge has been here since Roman times although it was rebuilt in the 1300's. It is the only bridge in Florence to have survived bombing during the second world war.
Florence is known for its leather products, and I was stunned at the number of vendors and shops selling a huge variety of leather products in all kinds of colours. The selection was overwhelming.
My husband gets credit for capturing this photo of a mime entertaining the crowds in one of the city squares.

I loved the architecture of these arches that run along the Via Vecchia.

I will be blogging with many more pictures over the next couple of days. Florence was just the appetizer of this trip. In my humble opinion, the best part of Italy is the countryside and the medieval villages, which are achingly beautiful. You can also avoid the tourist crowds there.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Threads: Uncommon & Unforgettable

Yesterday I returned from Haliburton, physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally rejuvenated. I haven't watched a TV, listened to a radio, or read a newspaper in two weeks. I didn't even miss them. I slept in my own bed with a cat on my hip last night. Life is good.
Here is the wonderful class I had last week. They were enthusiastic and worked hard, but also worked hard at having fun!
Tuesday night we had another faculty reception at Rail's End Gallery. I have been told by a colleague that I don't smile enough on my blog, so here I am smiling! I know you've seen enough of "Exhale" for now.
We experimented with a wide variety of ways to use thread, including thread sketching. Here is Nancy's Luna Moth, which she thread sketched and then coloured with artist pencils.
Lise's thread sketched horses.
Susan's thread-sketched bird and foliage.
Mary Lou's thread sketched dahlia.
We spent a day dyeing thread.
After washing and fixing the colour, it was a glorious sight to see skeins of coloured thread drying on the rack.
Once dried, the thread needs to be transferred to a spool if you are going to use it on your sewing machine (either in the needle or the bobbin, or for couching). An umbrella swift can make the job faster, but a pair of feet are always readily available (these are Betty's by the way).
Up above she is winding the thread onto a spool.
We experimented with a variety of thread painting methods. Here is Penny's thread painted lily.
Korleen's dragonfly stitched on a piece of water soluble stabilizer. The dragonfly will be cut out and the stabilizer dissolved.
We also tried a bit of thread lace using tulle netting and water soluble stabilizer. We also tried some hand-stitching with the hand-dyed threads. I must have been caught up by something because I completely failed to take pictures of the samples that were developing on the last day.

This past week I stayed in the teachers' cottages. My lovely roommates were Lila Lewis Irving and Helen Donnelly. Lila is a non-objective painter with an impressive career. Helen is a professional, theatrical and therapeutic clown. We had wonderful discussions in our cabin during breakfast.
Helen on the left, Lila to the right.

There were many dinners out with friends, and probably too many desserts. Here is Anita Zobens, owner of Cotton Mill Threadworks, who came to take the class, but also made everyone's week easier because she brought a selection of Superior Threads with her.
Lise get's the prize for travelling the furthest to take the class. She drove all the way from eastern Quebec.
Tomorrow I have to get weighed. It won't be pretty.

I will be back at the Haliburton School of the Arts for two weeks next summer. When everything is official I will announce the dates and classes.