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

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