Fennel, a Blouse and a Bag

Have you ever been obsessed with a plant?

I am intrigued with how a plant can become so profoundly influential and evocative. Early memories of brushing past great fronds of wild fennel on the white sand dunes of Northern Brittany have well and truly got into my system.

fennel, Brittany

A few years ago I tried to turn a small corner of Scotland (my garden) into a taste of Brittany by planting fennel and artichoke seeds.  I can now report that both plants thrive in conditions here in Edinburgh and this summer I returned from holiday to find a fennel jungle staring back at me. At this point I was reading a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Language of Flowers , and I was not surprised to discover the Victorians associated fennel with strength and vigour - highly appropriate as my supremely healthy fennel plants had colonised every little crevice they could find, including cracks in the tarmac drive! 

Of course I did the many obvious things with the crop, like eating the bulb, the fronds and the seeds (fresh and dried) and I had huge vases of the decorative stalks in the house which dropped hundreds of beautiful tiny balls of pollen which I gathered to use in a colour study (still thinking of Wolfgang Laib exhibition I saw a few years ago in Washington D.C. ) When I mentioned the pollen to a chef friend from Timberyard he told me the pollen is a great ingredient to add to bread to give it a honeyed aniseed flavour, a good texture and lovely colour. This was news to me but I have since spotted the pollen, often called, The Spice of Angels,  for sale on various specialist spice sites and I have thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with it in my own kitchen. If you are after more ideas, pump in ‘fennel’ to Kellie’s  Food To Glow blog and you will learn about the anti cancer flavonoids present in fennel and find a multitude of great recipes too.

But now for the other influence the plant has had on me – some new work.

Fennel Tangle, silk

This is my most recent design called Fennel Tangle. I had it printed onto 100% Habotai silk by Solli and Zoe at their brilliant Edinburgh print bureau. Although it’s normally homewares that I am involved in, I decided this print had to be worn. Over at Make Me a Frock, you will find Claire, an incredibly talented seamstress (and also a real perfectionist and poet) who has razor sharp observational skills and I knew she would interpret the fabric into a beautiful garment…and by golly she has. Below are images of the blouse she created for me. I am blown away by the design and microscopic stitches on the extremely fine silk. The blouse has that rare power that very occasionally clothes can give – it’s my new ‘cloak’ of strength and vigour, thank you Claire.

front of blouse

back of blouse

I’ve also added several cotton canvas bags to my shop, one of the designs, surprise surprise features a fennel head.

fennel bag

DSC_0006

What is your favourite plant? Do you have early memories of a particular plant? Have any plants played a role in your work? 

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21 thoughts on “Fennel, a Blouse and a Bag

  1. I never knew that you could use fennel pollen in such a way! The things you learn….great post Niki. Fennel reminds me of Tuscany, that dusty aniseed air of high summer. It’s raining here. Well and truly autumnal. x

    • Hello, nice to meet you, I think I’ve ‘met’ you on cyberspace – on Kellie’s blog I think. Yes, the fennel pollen in cooking was new to me too but ever so effective in enhancing flavours like roasting meat, veg, baking, it’s great actually!

      • Yes, me too! Well the lady who made my blouse with the fabric I designed, I’ve never met! We too met through blogs and in two weeks time I am travelling to Manchester to see an exhibition of paintings by Sandra Robinson who I met through her Colour of Ideas blog, great isn’t it!

  2. The pollen thing is news to me. How do people discover this stuff? Forsythia was always my favorite plant growing up. In Michigan, it was the earliest harbinger of Spring and always signaled the long winter was coming to an end. Any Spring blooming plant is high on my list…along with sunflowers… You’re like a Rennissanse woman, Niki, pretty soon you’ll be weaving your own cloth before sending it off to be made into clothes!

    • Oh yes, lovely yellow forsythia which incidentally the Victorians associated with ‘anticipation’ – very apt indeed. Heehee, weaving, I love that idea Betsy! And funnily enough I’ve been looking into a few courses at Heriot Watt uni….!

  3. Bonjour de Nice! As always Niki your designs are *gorgeous*. Love the fennel inspired fabric and bags. We get so much pleasure from your beautifully designed mugs. Your post got me thinking about the most beautiful acer tree in my Mum and Dad’s garden….it will be gone now and I haven’t seen for 20+ years but I can still visualise its beautiful shape and amazing colours. Sorry to have missed you in Dundee. Hope to catch up soon x

    • Bonsoir Shona! How lovely to hear from you from le Midi, envy, envy…
      Thank you Shona, you are way too kind but I’m lapping it up all the same ;)
      Oh yes, I can just imagine how an acer could leave a permanent imprint in your mind, with both it’s colour and form, beautiful. I always remember the look on a work colleague’s face when he ‘earth googled’ his family home back in NZ (he hadn’t been back in 20 years). He was staggered at how big the trees had become. He knew each tree so intimately as a child and he forgot they would have grown. I like the way trees and plants seem to have impacted us all so much as kids and I can see how your acer would have had such an impact on you too.
      Yup, hope to see you soon, lots of love to you both x

  4. Very nice post, coming at the subject from so many angles…I too did not know about pollen as flavoring; it sounds wonderfully subtle and warm. Your print is very pretty, with nice subdued colors. And I like the graphic on the bag very much – fennel IS a great plant. Here in the US, Swallowtail butterflies caterpillars use fennel as a food plant – google fennel & swallowtail butterfly and you’ll see a bunch of cool images. I am obsessed with any number of plants from time to time. And families, too – the mint family, for instance, with the square stems, interesting flower structure when viewed close up, and various aromas. In a very different way I’m loving the US west coast native cedar trees now. They have a powerful presence, distinctive form, sensuous bark….

    • I love hearing from you as I always come away from reading your comments armed with lots of interesting pieces of information! I’ve just looked at the swallowtail butterfly and fennel images and they are magnificent! I adore butterflies and always try to plant flowers that attract them. However, I have never seen a swallowtail in my garden but I’ve just been on a great website called Butterflies of England and they sell the larvae/ova so next Spring I am definitely going to order some to hatch and let loose amongst my fennel jungle. I’ve hatched Painted Lady butterflies very successfully so I can’t wait to try the swallowtails. Thank you SO MUCH for telling me about them.
      It made me chuckle when you mentioned the square stems of the mint family because its one of those ‘things’ that I just LOVE too, really amazing isn’t it and when I pointed it out to my boys they were equally impressed, just brilliant.
      I can just imagine the cedar trees you have, I always think each cedar tree seems to have its own character and I love the way they often resemble ancient figures and look like they could literally stagger off when your back is turned!

      • Well, that’s too cool that you also delight in the mints’ square stems – and is the swallowtail butterfly one that lives in Britain too? I guess there are butterflies that are found in both Europe & the Americas – certainly true of many plants, with the help of man or not…how terrific that you were successful with the Painted ladies – actually we have them here too! I found a monarch caterpillar once, and, knowing the only thing they eat is milkweed leaves, brought it home with a good supply and got lucky – I was able to see the entire cycle and let the butterfly free. The cedars out here are giants – they loom above you with smoothly twisting bark and gracefully sloping trunks. They are beings to admire.

      • I know! When I read your comment about square stems , at first I though, what a coincidence, but I guess its not really because folk who like things like this will be drawn to similar things and I suppose that’s why we connected on the huge world wide web! Brilliant! Im so glad too :)
        Yes, swallowtails live here too, in fact its our largest native butterfly in the UK but it is quite rare and they all seem to be down in England. However, I would think as the climate is getting so much milder, I don’t see why they wont like it up here in Scotland too. I agree, watching the whole cycle is utterly fascinating and seeing them fly off into the wild is brilliant and something you cant forget. I love your thoughts on the big cedars, I know exactly what you mean.

  5. Anyone reading this comment, I can attest to how gorgeous this blouse is in person. You looked so beautiful in it Niki that I jumped up and down, didn’t I? All of your designs are so incredibly well thought through, but at the same time so spontaneous. Does that make sense? Lovely that you have the designs across a range of useful items. I can’t wait for your next inspiration!

    • Heehee! I seem to remember us both jumping up and down like excited little girls, brilliant fun, I love moments like that :)
      Kellie, you are way too kind and your enthusiasm spurs me on which I can’t thank you enough for. Working from home can be lonesome at times and but you keep giving me wonderful doses of support that egg me on to my next designs…and talking of which I have started loads of new designs this week – I think the high dose of raw vitamins from my new Vitamix has fired me up (!) so thank you again about telling me about this wonderful kitchen gadget!

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