Friday, October 28, 2016

Ready for the knitting party

I missed posting yesterday because it took longer than I expected to unpack New Dishes!! I also finished a sock, but let's talk dishes because some days, you just need a few minutes to empty your mind by focusing on something stress-free, like clean, simple pottery.

Okay so that picture tells the end of the story.  I could stop writing now with "At the last minute, I found off-white porcelain dishes and moved to the next thing on my Moving Home list."  But where's the fun in that?  And anyway, if you look closely, you might see a tiny shadow up in the top right corner of that photo.

Yep, it's a plaid dish.  Which looks rather fetching with the off-white porcelain mug, don't you think?


Last weekend, Pete took pity on my dish-set angst and asked me to take him to an actual store to look at and touch actual dishes.  He too wanted to be able to put out matching dishes at suppertime without cobbling sets together (okay, we haven't broken THAT many dishes in the last 15 years, but the day is coming soon when cobbling will be required.)

So, we went to the big posh store where we went when we were first engaged, and where we returned when our foolish choice of easily chipped stoneware came back to bite us, and where we bought cutlery when I got tired of the sharp edge on the handles of the cheap set we started out with.  (honestly: how hard is it to get these basic design features right?)

We looked at plain white bone china - strong but stark - and fun earthenware - pretty but so, so breakable - and plain white porcelain - all in sets too 1960s for Pete or too fussy for me.  In the end we agreed on only one set and we both loved it so, so much.  I'm not even going to paste in a picture or include a link because I won't torture you like that.  It was from Gien, a French manufacturer of earthenware, and it would have cost us about $1700 before tax and without completer pieces like a cream and sugar or, heaven forbid, a teapot.

I mean maybe if the set was also capable of walking itself to the dishwasher and then clamoring up to the cupboard after its bath, all without chipping itself, I would consider that.  But probably not.

When we left the store I was feeling quite anxious.  Obviously there was only one thing to do.  I said "Pete, I saw a black plaid plate at HomeSense (discount housewares store, if you're in the US you probably have this chain also) and I would like to buy one if they haven't already sold out, because right now I really need a comfort dish."  We've been married a long time now so he didn't question my logic at all, bless him.

Anyway when we got to the store there were TONS of the black plaid dishes!  I guess nobody is lining up to eat off a plate that looks like it needs a good wipe to get the coal dust off it or something?  Even if they are made by Royal Stafford, my favourite for made-in-England earthenware.

I looked at the shelf - the dinner plates, the sandwich plates, the pasta bowls - and I said Pete, what if we just did this as a set?   He considered, perhaps factoring in how quickly earthenware breaks and how quickly he could get us back to a plain white set of some kind, and then said Yes, it's a good pattern.  This led to him accepting plate after plate as I checked for flaws - we wanted a 12-place setting so that in five years we still have a respectable number of intact dishes - and then carrying armfuls to the checkout.

Several salespeople were wrapping the majority of our 36 dishes as I carried the final stack of pasta bowls past a table display of -

white porcelain dishes.

You may recognize these.  They are the plain version of the cottage-gardeny set I liked originally from Villeroy and Boch.  I balanced the bowls carefully and picked up a mug to check the manufacturer and it was, in fact, Villeroy and Boch.  Steeply discounted Villeroy and Boch, I might add.

I went very calmly to the checkout with my choice of plaid pasta bowls and said, I am not going to ask you to stop wrapping these dishes, but Pete, please go look at that table.  He came back and said, You know what, I like the ones on the table even better.  So I said, "Let's Get Both!"

Which we did, obviously.

So here we are with two sets of dishes, which I hope will prevent me from needing to go dish shopping again for a really long time, for about half of what one set of porcelain dishes would have cost us anywhere else.  Even after you factor in the extra pieces (bowls etc.) that I bought from the Villeroy and Boch site when we got home and then unpacked last night.

End of story, beginning of fun and games.

How cute is this possible table setting with a bunny dish on black plaid and a matching-ish mug on the side?  I mean we can only do that for three, since I broke the fourth bunny bowl, but still.  If we have more people I could serve sandwiches, because I have 8 bunny plates in that size.  Sandwiches are more practical for a knitting party anyway.

And what about this setting, on the plaid tablecloth I bought for Christmas when we went back to the store for the second load of dishes?

Oops, I guess I left that part out of the story.  The Homesense we went to is a 10-minute walk from our condo, on a super busy street where parking is not really an option, so we carried the two sets of dishes in two loads, in bags.  Oddly it was my legs that hurt afterward - for two days - and not my arms, no idea why.

And how cute will our little kitchen table be, set with these dishes and surrounded by porcelain-white cabinets tricked out with this hardware?

It's matchy with our countertop, but not too matchy.

I didn't expect to love the cabinet hardware we chose but in fact, I am constantly holding these samples while I'm on the phone or otherwise pondering things - they feel so nice in my hand and the shape, size, and soft iron finish is so much like the hardware my grandfather used for a desk he built in the 1930s, and which is going into our front hall.  Plus: they are from Martha Stewart, and available at Home Depot, for which I have many many gift cards.  I might not even have to come up with much cash for these things, though actually, there is a ton of cabinetry going into our house, so... yeah.  They'll cost me.

Okay, that's enough kitchen stuff for today I think, don't you?  (too much, even!) I'm sure we all have more important things to take care of over the weekend and hopefully some of it involves knitting.

Take care and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The accidental sock

I mentioned the other day I've been knitting my own socks instead of Wayson's, so I thought I'd show you how that's going...

Going going gone.  There's so little left to do and I am relieved because I am getting quite anxious to wear these socks after looking at them growing slowly bigger all this time.

For some reason, I am thinking that they will feel even more amazing on me than they look on my needles, which is saying something, because I have been super smitten with the way these stripes look together.  I know I mentioned they incorporate the colours of our house and maybe that's part of it.  I don't have green though, except a splash in the Sanderson 'Amanpuri' fabric I picked for drapes in my office, and maybe the living room.

Although... Doris and I agree that this Sanderson 'Roslyn' print in green is a must-have, if only I had a place to put it where it actually made sense with the other stuff in the room. 

Okay, the Amanpuri print is closer to the sock-stripe green as can be but I love it SO MUCH.  Maybe it's a Sign.  A sign that we'd need an addition, because these colours really go with nothing else in our house.

And now: back to the sock.  Do you find you and stop and stare at your knitting stitches for minutes at a time, marveling at how neatly they tuck together?  I do.

With this pair of socks I was especially conscious of the tidiness of a heel gusset, too...

Even from the inside, the construction is just so orderly.  It makes me feel so calm and cheerful.

Okay, time for me to stop writing and start knitting because the toe of this sock is SO close now, it's a shame to make it wait.  Even if I am supposed to be knitting Wayson's socks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's cooking

I am writing this with my mouth on fire from the bowl of cress beside me - it's like eating radishes that have been sliced up into a feathery degree of Thin and Dry, and it scares me a little that this is not the most-influenced I was by reading Home Cooking last week.

Does this look like an authentic French chocolate croissant I took out of my freezer,
let rise overnight, then baked in time for breakfast?  Because it is.  YUM.

Maybe you know about Laurie Colwin already, but I was just at the wrong age when she was writing novels and cooking columns, so I only stumbled across this book recently and immediately bought it because of my longstanding dream of being a competent cook.  By competent, I mean the sort of person who can effortlessly throw together something healthy and delicious and exactly what is needed to turn that particular day into a winner.

I have such a complex relationship with cooking.  Growing up, I was surrounded by THE most amazing baked goods, contrasted by family-size meals that were very practical and involved things like liver and a scary hissing pressure cooker, and, early in the morning or late in the evening, small-scale snacklike things that were both extravagant and just-accessible like really good sausages fried in a pan, or amazingly delicious eggs.  I remember sharing tins of sardines on toast and, as a teen, getting up in the middle of the night to broil lamb chops - this did not go over well, by the way, as I had not realized the lamb chops were in the freezer for a more specific purpose - but given the choice of these three food specialties I was most attracted to to baking.  I mean: duh.

The upshot of my upbringing is that while I am good at several different supper-type dishes, the ones I want to cook are not generally ones that the people I am feeding want to eat, even if we are all agreed that liver will not under any circumstances be involved.  (although I am very very partial to liverwurst on crackers, which reminds me, it's been too long since I had that.) 

Also, I am not a person who finds cooking comforting.  After a really rough day, what I find comforting is having somebody else cook something delicious for me.   Over the years I have tried dining out, taking out, and posh deli counters to meet this need when it arises and frankly my own cooking is always better, with the exception of the really amazing pizza place up the street on Jarvis (G is For Gelato, for readers who visit this area or also live here, heh)

Just this weekend Pete picked up some ready-made scalloped potatoes for me from a gourmet shop and they were SO bad.  Wafer thin slices of potato that even after a round in the oven were still undercooked, and a sauce made with swiss cheese.  And I the only kid raised on cheddar for scalloped potatoes?  Yeesh.

I had a happier outcome from my discovery of Overnight Oatmeal.

Maybe I mentioned this innovation before but basically, you stuff equal parts instant oatmeal and milk into a covered dish or a Mason jar, if you're taking it to work, and leave it overnight.  You can add frozen fruit or sub in yogurt for the milk or do all sorts of other things but whatever you do - in the morning, when you stagger into the kitchen after not enough sleep, you have (cold) oatmeal all ready to go.  And no pot to wash up, which in my opinion makes up for the cold.

Also the chocolate croissant thing is working out for me, until we move back home to The Land of Amazing Bakeries.  My favourite of all of them offers some of their goods in an uncooked-and-frozen form and the croissants have been making my weekends special for a few weeks now.  I haven't even tried the frozen raspberry scones yet, but I should, shouldn't I. 

Most days I find myself rotating between eating raw vegetables or deconstructed sandwiches or fruit - like gorgeous Cororonation grapes when they are in season, which they aren't right now unfortunately,

I am also a fan of raw veggies and hummus.  When I really want something warm, though, I try new recipes that might or might not fill the Comfort Gap and be as pleasant to prepare and clean up after as they are to eat.

I decided I probably won't try any of the other recipes from Home Cooking - except the one for bread, because I'm already pretty competent at that and might be able to pull it off - after one fairly significant disaster.  But I loved the book and will be buying the novels next.  Laurie Colwin had a great writing voice, so warm and friendly and approachable, and she was clearly such a lovely person, as well.  She died very young in her sleep, apparently, but what a professional legacy to leave.

Ready for the disaster story?

Laurie described a potato croquette that serves to conceal vegetables in a side dish, and it sounded amazing.  Its ingredients are very basic - leftover mashed potatoes, leftover vegetables of any kind - but of course, I am rarely justified in making mashed potatoes (which I love but the rest of my family hates, except for the ones who are better cooks than I am and who usually take on the task at holidays) and there are never any leftover vegetables in my house (because why wait?) so I had to make those things first.

While my broccoli steamed,  I realized that a/ the potatoes were ready to mash  and b/ I do not possess a masher.  How is that possible??  I considered a fork which seemed like it would take forever, and then I remembered the immersion blender I bought recently to use for soup, then set aside in sadness after I used to it puree soup with barley in it (if you can't leap ahead to imagine the results of that experiment, picture twenty minutes of puree-ing and, the next day, leftover glue in a pot in the fridge.)

Any thoughts on what a single pulse from a really good immersion blender does to boiled potatoes?

So, with that result established: there I was, with my liquid potato supply dotted with finely chopped broccoli stalks and finely chopped sauteed onions, added to create some illusion of texture, when I realized that in addition to not having a potato masher I had neglected to secure bread crumbs.  I did have a very stale baguette end, but even a hammer couldn't break it apart into something I could smash into crumbs, so that was out.

Doris later pointed out that I could have used crushed crackers.  Doris is an extremely competent cook and sublime at baking too, and yet I do not hate her at all, for which I think I deserve a biscuit don't you?

Not having the sense to call Doris or think of crushed crackers myself I went with Plan C, which was to fry globs of the potato mix like it was pancake batter.  The outsides were soft and lightly browned, and the insides were warm and gooey, and I was the only one willing to eat the six I made.  The rest of the potato mix when into a glass dish for adventures the next day - I baked it with some cheese on top and treated like a gooey casserole.  Again, no takers but me.

But like I said, there's always raw food.  Laurie sang the praises of cress for instant salads so many times in Home Cooking, and I have such fond memories of the egg and cress sandwiches I ate for lunch in St. James' Park the summer I lived in England, I bought some.  I haven't had the energy yet to boil eggs but I'm sure it will happen, and hopefully on a day when I have fresh bread on hand and some cress left over from all the grazing.

What's your favourite no-fail comfort food?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Casting on

This morning I went out and within a block my head was stinging with the cold.  That's how I found out it's finally hat weather! and the only handknit hats I can find in my house are the seriously warm January ones that are too much for right now.  So I should definitely finish the hat I started last spring... but in the meantime, I am thrilled to tell you that I finally managed to make myself cake Jan's sock yarn.

I know, this is pathetic, the sort of thing I used to do while eating an apple between spots of weaving and spinning.  It actually took me two days to pull off, as well - one day for the initial skein-to-cake, the other for the single-to-twin cakes.

And I didn't even cast on!  I had to wait another whole weekend for that.

Oddly, I always think of starting a pair of socks as quite time-consuming, because I cast on both and knit the first round and a quarter every time.  It's the only way I know of to set up the needles such that they don't get all twisty or drop their stitches while in the knitting bag.

But in fact, it was much quicker to cast on and knit the start of a sock than to cake the yarn from the skein.

And all of it feels much better now that's it's in front of me rather than over me, looming and generally making me feel inadequate and lazy.  So I should have just gotten this done a while ago.

It's funny to think of your knitting judging you, isn't it?  But mine does, all the time.

It says things like, You're so good at this, and it's so orderly and comfortable, why are you instead slouched in an armchair poring over cabinet hardware you can't decide on or reading news you can't control?

And I don't honestly know what to say.  Wayson's socks also berate me, for working on my own socks instead of his.  Every week I delay finishing them, the greater the likelihood it will be really cold the day I walk over with a parcel of Sock in my pocket to meet him at his favourite cafe.  Though I do remember making a conscious choice to knit my own socks during a stressful bout of TV viewing recently, because I was pretty sure I would mess up the ribbing on those socks while fixating on the screen.

One thing I do know is that after half an hour or so of knitting, my wrists and hands are tired and I have to stop for a while, and that's new to me. Maybe it's exhaustion or a sign I should restrict myeslf to very peaceful programs, or maybe it's the start of arthritis?  I hope not that, because not being able to knit comfortably would be awful.

Especially with two nice new socks all ready to go.

How about you?  Does your knitting ever give you What For?

Edited to add this video for Dee's No Twist Circular Cast On:

... thanks Laurinda for tipping me off about this!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wasted knitting time: the hunt for new dishes

My friend Doris and I have much in common, perhaps because we were born the same day only a few hours and miles apart, and this week we discovered we are both hunting for new every day dishes.  Our current sets have reached the point of 'more broken than whole'.  We also have the same taste when it comes to our homes so we are both quite attracted to 'Cottage' from Villeroy and Boch:

This set is so perfect for our house that it should be a no-brainer.  However, as I'm pretty sure you've noticed, I'm a chronic over-researcher.  Also, it's quite expensive.  So I am still looking.

I've had two sets of every day dishes over the last 23 years, which is probably pretty good, especially since the first set was made of stoneware and we went through a few weeks of its lifetime with no dishwasher.  It seems the trick to handwashing plates is to do them one at a time in the sink or in some other way protect them from smashing into each other, ahem.  The second set was porcelain and held up much better, but it was already discontinued when we bought it, and replacement plates have been harder and harder to come by even on

Before those two sets, and after a series of depressing 4-place sets from the hardware store, I had a 'set' made up of mismatched dishes I found at thrift stores.  I loved those dishes... each one was beautiful and I could always find the perfect complement for my mood and the meal I was putting on them.  Also, it was a super cheap system and when one dish broke there was never an issue finding another to replace it.  The only problem with it was me, and the fact that I get overattached to inanimate objects.  I'm looking at you, blue toast plate.  When the blue toast plate was stuck in the dishwasher or in use by somebody else, I couldn't bring myself to have toast, and after a few episodes of this I knew I wasn't the right person to have a mismatched set.

Pete chose the stoneware set and it was SUCH a relief to have dishes that were all the same.  Best of all, the teacups were beautiful.  Many sets have a flat-bottomed teacup and I find the bend quite hard to clean - I end up with a tea stain that requires baking soda to get out.  Who needs extra work?  Plus they don't rest neatly against the palm of your hand, like a gently curved teacup will.  Or stack, usually.

The stoneware set's downfall, other than its readiness to break when you looked at it, was that it had a colourful Art Deco pattern around the rim.  Mostly it was black, but there was also peach, and a funny green, and a very cold blue, all filling in the centres of stark geometric shapes.  When it came to putting linens on the table I was as often taking them off because the vintage red or floral cloths I am always drawn to just looked so wrong with the dishes and bothered me. 

The porcelain set is white - or rather, just enough off white to feel warm.  It's got a curved teacup that is the perfect size and shape and has a handle that feels like it was made for your fingers, whoever 'you' might be.  The plates are generous but not so big they don't fit in the cupboards and the cereal bowls are just deep enough to be easy to take out of the stack.  You know those really deep bowls that you can only nest if you're willing to take the stack right down from the shelf whenever you need one?  Yeah.  My set doesn't give me those problems.  It goes with everything, and every food item that goes on it looks lovely, and when I open the cupboard and see it all there looking monochomatic I instantly feel completely calm and happy.

But... soooo discontinued.  It's a Johnson set, and if I am willing to accept a very busy pattern in a colour that is nonetheless agreeable to me I could swap it for Johnson's traditional Blue Willow, whose bowl and teacup shapes are similar to what I have now:

This set is made of earthenware and may be less sturdy than porcelain... however, it is so classic it will probably never ever go out of production, so I would never have to worry about finding replacement plates when somebody surprises me as I unload the dishwasher. 

At the cottage, we have a Corelle set - what is that really, tempered glass? - that has held up very well to hand washing.  I mentioned it to Doris and she said she's used that for years too, and her set got dinged up in spite of its longevity, so I guess nothing is perfect.  On the upside, that stuff nests like nobody's business and takes up the least possible storage space.

Another option would be to upgrade to bone china.  This seems counterintuitive to me because I am trained to think of bone china as exclusively the domain of the 'good' dishes you keep in a cupboard and use four times a year plus tea parties.  But when the current set first started to break I met a salesperson with young sons who told me she has always had plain white bone china for her every day set.  She said it comes out of the dishwasher without a scratch and her boys have never broken any of it. 

As it happens, the cup and plate design for our bone china set is also available in a plain white - Leigh, from Wedgwood:

If we replaced the current set with this, I would have all the joy of our current set plus the joy of handling bone china every day.  And if we ever have more than eight people over for a fancy buffet supper, I can combine the formal and everyday sets, which makes it a very cost-effective solution.  But Doris and I agree that it would be weird to be using bone china all the time.  I mean, when you have the worst cold ever and haven't showered in days and you've crawled into the kitchen for chicken soup, do you really want to feel you have to live up to the bowl you ladle it into?

I once met a woman who lived in a beyond-charming worker's cottage in North Yorkshire, right across the moors from where the Bronte sisters lived, and what she ate off of every day was a Bunnykins set.  No need to live up to that - that's comfort food right there, don't you think?

It's a long time ago now but I'm pretty sure I ate off them myself, when I visited her with our mutual friend.  Ever since, owning and regularly using Bunnykins dishes has been one of those things I aspire to do one day.  But I suspect Pete is not up for that, and anyway, it would be quite a challenge to cobble together a 12-place setting of it because it's marketed to children rather than adults who aren't convinced they are adults yet.

I am getting a lot better at choosing things for the house, in that I start from a practical point rather than what I might dream of.  In this case, it's "where am I gonna buy this stuff?" and from there, it's pretty much "what are they selling?"  That leaves me with three realistic choices.  I can go to a restaurant supply store (white dishes), a department store (ditto) and the posh china shop where we got our good dishes and our first everyday set.  So it's not like I can research forever, but I've already lost a lot of valuable knitting time to the hunt.

And why?  It's only dishes... that you handle and eat off of and look at several times a day for years and years.  ugh, okay.  Maybe that's worth giving up a little knitting time. 

Do you have dishes you love?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

New yarn - last look

The weather is turning so fast now I wanted to share a double Last Look - new yarn from Vesper, and the incredible floral bounty of the garden outside my window.

After a long series of club yarns that featured zero purple, I got another one recently which makes three in a row.  How can I possibly choose which stripey is the best for socks for my purple-obsessedloving friend Jan?

And also, how did our condo's terrace garden manage to burst forth with such enthusiasm?  I remember not too long ago seeing brick along the face of this particular bed, and now it's just cascading leaves and blooms.

Plants: they grow up so fast.

Our back-yard garden at home is just weeds.  I saw Doris yesterday and she asked to see pictures of the house.  I showed her one with a lot of green in it plus an aluminum storage shed and said, "Here's our back yard," and she said, "Are those weeds?" and I said "Oh yes."  If they were climbing weeds, they would have devoured the entire aluminum shed by now, as well as the appliances we ended up deciding not to put back into the house. 

Naturally, I am taking vast comfort in the loveliness of the terrace garden at the condo, which requires no maintenance by me apart from forking over some money every month.  Yesterday I noticed one of our maintenance team polishing the brass of our address letters at the front door and thought, I will never, ever be able to give our house as much attention as this condo building gets.  It is so beautiful.

As is this yarn....

I need to cake yarn for Jan's socks, if I'm going to make her a pair for Christmas.  Judging by what I got done over the summer, in my reduced state I am still kicking out a pair of socks every month, and there are a little more than two months till I have to wrap gifts... so even if I finish knitting my hat and my stripey fingerless gloves (which I really need to do so I can write up that pattern and share it with you) I should be able to make gift socks happen.  Once I make time for the caking.

I really like these tall soft grasses in the terrace garden and would like to plant some in tall planters at the house, to soften our fence and blur the top edge.  I'm also partial to this crazy tall flower that Jan immediately identified (she is responsible for the terrace garden in her building) but I think it's a bit too spiky for me, and sun-loving for our mostly-shady yard.

And check this out:

Something about this plant area always makes me think of the gardens we saw in Miami, the year we went to visit my cousin and her husband when he was assigned there.

(I've never been back because OMIGOSH the turbulence on the flight down, along the coast.  but I do remember the incredible greenery you get when the temperatures are warm year-round.)

Anyway: new yarn arriving on the brink of cold weather.  Is there anything more poignant yet full of promise?

I feel pretty sure Last Look is the right yarn for Jan, but I am out of the habit of trusting my judgement without wheelbarrows full of research, so I took this picture of the three candidates and e-mailed it to her to see which she liked.

Guess what?  It was Last Look.

Have a great weekend all, and let's hope we each get in some knitting time!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


I have a feeling the warm weather might be gone for good - on the weekend, it was SO COLD! I had to dig out all the socks I'd finished since last spring and not blocked, so I could get them into a bowl of Soak and from there, into circulation.

This is a pretty small sockdial really.  Three pairs of socks in four months? And nothing else knit either?  And one of the socks not even grafted at the toe??

You'd think I spent all my knitting time floating in the lake, or poring over fabric and paint, or something.

Anyway all my laziness is coming back to chew on my ankles now, because I weeded out some too-short socks last spring and I would have liked a lot more than three measly pairs to take their place, considering we're supposed to have a very cold winter coming.  To make matters worse, I can't even find my super warm mohair socks - I didn't need them much last winter and I suspect I packed them during the Winter Frenzy of 2015, when I thought we were getting back into the house in June. 

Well, I'm sure it will all work out somehow.

Meanwhile, I have now grafted that random toe.

And while I had the darning needle out, I grafted the toe of my First Frost sock, even though the second isn't even near its heel flap yet...

... which frees up two (TWO!) sets of needles.  Yay!  Now I can cast on a pair of gift socks to have ready to go when Wayson's socks are done.

Probably I'm crazy to think that somehow, choosing all the paints and fabrics and door casings will free me from house planning long enough to prep for Christmas.  I mean I'll still have to pack the day to day stuff and move us for Christmas, too.  But I still have hope.

(and two sets of sock needles.  Two!!)

Friday, October 7, 2016

DIY paint sample boards

If you do any research on how to pick paint colours, you'll learn very quickly how important it is to look at your choices on part of a wall you want to cover before you commit to the whole room.  But why paint a wall when you can paint something more portable and less permanent?

This is an incredibly useful trick I learned from reading Maria Killam's blog, and buying her paint board sample packs for the most-used colours from Benjamin Moore.  Maria's boards are large pieces of card stock, customized with actual paint and labeled with the colour, the number, and its undertone.  These sets gave me a lot of confidence and a few of them were in constant use here until we decided to go with Farrow and Ball paints instead.

(Farrow and Ball paints don't have any odor, and the colours are beyond amazing in every light, and though they cost a little more than the Aura paint we planned to use, each can goes a little farther than a can of Aura, too.)

The thing about paint - especially Farrow and Ball paint, which has more pigments than most - is that one choice can look like any of several different colours depending on the foliage outside the window, the amount of natural and/or artificial light, the direction the room faces, and so on.  Also: paint swatches from the store aren't a reliable predictor.  Even opening the can and looking inside won't help you because paint dries darker than it looks when wet.

But if you paint boards - large boards that let you see how the colour looks over a serious chunk of space - it's a lot easier to determine which paint will make your curtain fabric or upholstery look its best.

Here we have Door Number One:

And now Door Number Two:

Maybe your computer won't show you what I see, but it's a no brainer in person that the first colour is the only option.  And yet they both looked so perfect for this fabric when I was working from tiny chips.

At the Farrow and Ball store here in Toronto, there is a window display of samples painted on inexpensive canvases from the dollar store.  I hadn't even considered this possibility and I think it's genius.  The card stock boards Maria offers are very practical for interior designers who are carting entire collections to different clients' homes, but if you only need a few samples, canvases are a great option.  They aren't that expensive, they're easy to paint over, you can choose the exact size you want, and when you're carrying just two or three of them they won't bend in your bag.

Because the little sample pots from Farrow and Ball cover quite a lot of ground, I painted some larger canvases for serious decision making and some smaller ones, all in the same colours, to keep in my purse for emergencies and fabric shopping trips.

They fit right into a little bag I stitched together a few years ago to hold small knitting projects and are so easy to use.

Thanks to my sample boards I didn't have to wait until the drywall was taped and primed to see what our favourite paint options look like in different rooms of the house.  Which is ideal, because Farrow and Ball specifies different undercoats depending on the type of colour you're choosing (red, light, medium, dark, etc.) and we've been on the fence about what colours to use in which rooms on the main floor.

I mean sure, that particular blue is a perfect match for the blues in the painting I want to hang over one of the fireplaces, and pairing the two would be pretty spectacular....

But do we really want the drama of a dark teal blue room?  (yes)
Do we want walls that will match our velvet sofa perfectly? (are you kidding me yes)
Are we confident we won't regret painting such a dark colour in an already sort of dark room? (nope)

These questions matter, because if we choose Stiffkey Blue for the living room, it will need the dark colour undercoat.  If we put it into the dining room instead, then it will need that undercoat.  And what about the powder room, where I really wanted something kind of dramatic?  The painter is totally going to want to know before he gets started.  In fact I need to know, because I'm the one who's ordering the paint, and how else can I order the right amount of each type?

There's another consideration when it comes to sample boards and that is: omigosh is it ever relaxing to paint canvases with Farrow and Ball paint.

I couldn't stop.  I went back to the store four times to buy more sample pots.  I have never worked with paint so pleasant to use, or that rinsed out of the brush so perfectly - it was just so, so nice to make these boards.  I got paint on my fingers and it washed off quickly with nothing more than some water.  The minerals they use to make this stuff make an enormous, and welcome, change from acrylic paint!

In the end we settled on a pretty simple palette that will repeat through the whole house:

We're going to use the lightest of our favourite colours, Clunch, in almost every room and hallway.  In some parts of the house it looks pale green, in others creamy yellow, and in still others a pale grey-white, but it's always gorgeous.  This will sound lame but a few months ago I was reading a British decorating magazine and stopped to admire the beautiful period home of a woman who rooms were "painted throughout in Clunch."  I mean I have even remembered that wording all this time afterward, and the feeling I had as I thought Oh I wish I could do that, certain it would not be possible because the cost would be so far out line with common sense.  I'm so grateful I happened to be walking by the Farrow and Ball store after a morning in the Sanderson fabric showroom or I would never have known it was within reach after all.

In the front hall and dining room and powder room we will use Elephant's Breath, which is sometimes a flat cold grey, sometimes a greyed lavender, and sometimes taupe or even light beige.  I'm a little nervous about this one because grey is on its way out after many years of saturating the design market, but it's the perfect complement to the black floor tiles going into the front hall and main floor bathroom... and I can repaint those three rooms myself if I really have to, because there is so little painted wall to be found in them.  Sometimes you just have to ignore trends and choose what's right for your own situation.

One bedroom will be Rectory Red, my favourite shade of blue-red and a natural extension of the reds in other rooms' fabrics and accents.  We had a red bedroom in the old version of our house and even though that is supposed to be one of the worst colours for inducing and maintaining sleep, I always found that room to be warm and comforting.  And anyway: so important to us to carry over aspects of the original house, as we did with our wood flooring.

The wildcard is Stiffkey Blue, which I'll paint into the enclosed gap over the dining room fireplace if Elephant's Breath is too horrible with our painting and we don't have another obvious choice of art to hang there.  If we do that, I'll have extra, so I might use it to paint my desk... and probably some random picture frames... and maybe a few wall shelves.  I have so many of those that I've picked up at different flea markets, and they look so great just hanging on random walls or standing at the back of a counter.

I might even use up the rest of the sample pots to make some custom art out of the canvases, when I don't need them for decision making any more.  Why not, right?  I mean anything that justifies using this paint in a meditative way has good to be a good idea... it may not be knitting, but it sure is a comfort!