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Sharon Bill Author & Music Tutor

Weeping Window Poppies at Middleport Pottery

Middleport Pottery, Stoke-on-Trent, is the last venue in a regional tour before the Weeping Window of poppies moves to its final resting place in London’s Imperial War Museum.

Made up of over one million poppies this is an inspiring installation. It’s quite emotional to stand next to it: Each hand made poppy has six petals, to represent the specific charities chosen by the artist (Paul Cummins) and each poppy represents the life of a lost soldier and was planted individually by volunteers - including a soldier remembering his fallen regiment.

The artist chose ceramics as in itself ceramics are fragile. This final exhibition of the Weeping Window is close to my heart as it is close to my home. The Potteries is the unrivalled capital of Ceramics and Middleport Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent has been operation in the pottery industry since 1889. It’s is perhaps most famous for the distinguished Burleigh pottery, and in more recent years the TV programme, The Great Pottery Throw Down.

I share with you, in picture and video form, the time I spent in remembrance, in contemplation and also the joy of the artistic installation. I also share my pride of the Potteries heritage with a demonstration of the beautiful Burleigh range with a refreshing cup of tea.

Hardwick Hall Textiles and Embroideries, August 2018

Hardwick Hall was our most recent National Trust jolly. Alan Titchmarsh, with the BBC, gave an insight into some of the history of Bess of Hardwick, but you need to see it for yourself. Now I’m pretty keen on a fabric fix but Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury leaves me in the shade! I’m led to believe that the collection of needlework at Hardwick Hall is the largest in Europe and I suspect that’s quite true as it’s pretty much floor to ceiling throughout! There are tapestries, embroideries, appliqué and stump work throughout the hall. It seems that Bess was also the queen of up-cycling as many of the ornate designs are created from dismantled clerical surplices. She was also one for a bargain as she purchased some of the hangings second hand - albeit still at great cost. Whilst Bess of Hardwick was responsible for sourcing the needlework rather than stitching them herself, several generation later show that the last Duchess to live there did work on her own creations.

It’s humbling to see such fine sewing. The stitching is so tiny, so even - and there is just so much of it!

If fabric isn’t your thing there is certainly still plenty to see but my first trip there (there will be others I’m sure) focuses on the textiles - I needed a fabric fix!

‘Dial M’ by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (

Madame Butterfly at Leeds Grand Opera House home of Opera North February 2018

Madame Butterfly, Puccini's famous opera, is always worth a trip out and Leeds Grand Opera House, home of Opera North is also worth visiting. The two combined to make a spectular evening. Beautiful music and beautiful architecture - what more could you want? Of course, I cried!

Nostell Priory National Trust Gardens Winter Walk February 2018

During a visit to Nostell Priory, part of the National Trust, we had a lovely morning walking around the gardens, lakeside and woodland attached to the house. Beautiful scenery and birdlife gave our half-term break a boost. Even though the weather was a bit on the chilly side a warm cup of tea in the stable yard cafe soon warmed us up. I'd heartily recommend a visit.

Writing Bureau Shabby Chic Upcycle Furniture DIY Project with Chopin and Haydn Sheet Music by Sharon Bill

This was a house warming present for my daughter and her hubby after their wedding. The music used has a special significance for both my daughter and I: The Chopin Waltzes belonged to our mutual friend who was piano teacher to us both and the Haydn choral music belonged to this same friend's mum who was in a choir that we were all members of. As such the scribbled notes on the scores bring back memories of old practising and performances.

I have to admit that this is my favourite project. The bureau cost £10 and it took 10 hours to complete the project - I love it!

For the record, I don't rip music up until I'm sure it won't ever be played or sung again. In both the choral and the piano music each edition has been updated my subsequent new editions and will no longer be appropriate for performance. Nevertheless the music lives on!

Biddulph Grange Lantern Walk, Bonfire and Firework Display 2017

Biddulph Grange Gardens is my local National Trust 'go-to' and so their advertised lantern walk, bonfire and firework display was an obvious choice - and it didn't disappoint. The beautiful grounds were atmospherically lit and it was so lovely to walk around my favourite little spot in the dark in such artistic illuminations. The bonfire was lit by an entertaining fire eater and for those who wanted a bit of a fright the Cheshire Cottage became inhabited by creepy inhabitants for the night.

I really enjoy my National Trust Membership and I really, really enjoyed these bonfire celebrations!

Biddulph Grange Stumpery, National Trust - October 2017

Biddulph Grange gardens has the nation's oldest Stumpery - and it's my favourite part of the whole gardens. We go there often! The gardens are the life's work of James Bateman and are the epitome of Victorian landscape design. We travel from Cheshire to Egypt and then China with tunnels, lined avenues and crooked walks - but I love the Stumpery the best. The quirky tree stumps, ferns and Ivy tunnel are far more appealing to me than (the albeit beautiful) manicured beds of the Dahlia walk.

It always surprises me how many people visit this garden, come rain or shine. However, I think the freshly baked scones are the ultimate draw to the place.

Garden Party... Flowers and Fun in an English Country Garden

This video is a tribute to Summer memories; the flowers and the fun that we shared in the lovely setting of our own English garden. Sometimes we may have had to have put our wellies on, along with our cocktail dresses (British weather being what it is) but we certainly let that diminish the joy. In fact I love the rain as well as the sunshine - it keeps our land green and pleasant. I love the sound of rain and the beauty of raindrops. A burst of sunshine is always welcome but we have enjoyed our garden even in the dark!

Hen Party... Chickens roaming and ruling in our garden

What can be more relaxing than a few hens clucking around the garden? Fenton Blues, Amber Links and Brown links have all had their place and have paid their way in eggs. It is true that they absolutely destroy anything green within a matter of days (or weeks at best) and so they are only allowed to roam free in the garden occasionally but it's so lovely having the girls strutting about the place as you work or relax outside. They had plenty of space even in their own enclosure though - and they soon wrecked that!

My first hens were all named after Puritan virtues, with names such as Verity, Felicity, Prudence, Constance and Charity. Some years later my next set of hens were named after a more realistic theme - they were all named after Agatha Christie victims. Mrs McGuinty, Agatha and Murgatroyd all met a sticky end!

We never had a cockerel (except a stone ornament named Rocky after 'Chicken Run' and also the material it was made from) as I felt that this would disrupt the calm atmosphere. A friend of mine had a cockrel and it was more fierce than a guard dog!

Celtic Embroideries by Sharon Bill

Freestyle embroidery is a favourite pastime of mine because it's something that can't be rushed. I also find it more relaxing than cross stitch as there's no concentration needed to count stitches. I absolutely love Celtic designs. These designs are taken from the illuminated manuscripts in the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospel manuscripts. I'm astounded at the skill in constructing these intricate designs by hand.

I've stitched the designs with a mixture of stem stitch, back stitch and french knots. I love the sepia tone thread - Anchor stranded silk number 370.

Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton - National Trust Visit 2017

The Manders family of Wightwick Manor were great patrons of the Arts and Crafts movement and were also collectors of Pre-Raphaelite art. I absolutely love William Morris patterns and my husband is a great fan of Pre-Raphaelite art and there's enough of both in this small corner of the West Midlands to keep us both happy.

Not only is there enough art history in this beautiful residence but the social history in the servant's quarters is also of great interest. The Manders were unusually thoughtful of their servants.

I absolutely love Wightwick Manor. One visit is never enough!