Friday, 7 December 2012

Bearwood Handmade - The Sequel

Aaaaarrrrgggg! Having a bit of a last minute panic about the Bearwood Handmade Fair tomorrow. Don't know why. I haven't got that much to do but I'm stressing irrationally that no-one will come. Even though people always come. The Bearwood community has supported us whole heartedly for the last three years so I should not doubt them. But I'm doing this blog post when I should be finishing off my sewing jobs and pricing so that I can at least say I gave a little bit more in terms of effort to get people there tomorrow.

Here's a few pics of what I've been making. Always owls of course - but I've made a couple of doorstops this time. Lots more hot water bottles. No photos but draft excluders and pine cone fire lighters will also be filling up my toasty warm themed table. Hopefully I'll see you there, amidst the crowds! I'll be hugging a hottie again and sipping soup from the Bearwood Pantry.

Bearwood Handmade, St Mary The Virgin Church Hall, Cnr of St Mary's and Bearwood Road, B66 4BX 10 til 4pm, Saturday 8th December.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Nothing but the tooth



My daughter has a wobbly tooth and so do all her school friends. So, once again, I find myself making little Tooth Fairy friends - felt molars, with faces and accessories, and a little pocket on the back for those tiny little milk teeth. And of course, there's room for a shiny coin from that generous fairy.

You wouldn't believe the pickle I get into over characters like the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas. Honesty is all in my world. And I'm also a terrible cynic. But I have gone along with the big 'lies' of childhood because something (Conformity? Tradition? My mom?) tells me I should. But I'm just dreading that moment when the penny drops and my once innocent child looks at me, all betrayed, and vows never to believe another word I say. I've spent way too long imagining this exact scenario. Their little brains working, their big hearts I go again.
I should just stop over thinking this right now and busy myself with something. I have loads to do. Father Christmas will be here before I know it!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Should I get paid to stay at home with my kids?

First up I must state that this is not a post that in any way sits comfortably within the realms of 'mummy wars' or whatever other patronising term is used by the media every time a person has something to say on the subject of child rearing, work, breast feeding etc.

I've just been reading a bit lately about parenting and working and you know, the sort of stuff that is designed to make you think. And I've been thinking.

So now I'm writing, as much for myself as you. Just to see where I'm at really. So, I had a child eight years ago and made a decision not to return to the freelance TV world. I didn't always expect to have children. He came as a bit of a shock actually. But I did know that if I ever did have children I would not be a working mum. Although I knew there would be a lot of work involved in bringing up a child, and that is how I've looked at it over the years to be honest. I have a job to do. To raise a child. Or children, in fact, because I went and had another one 5 years ago, at a time when we were in a mess financially, my husband struggling to launch a new business in a recession. But I am in the lucky position of having a husband who loves and respects me and went along with my decision to give up a steady income (and a good income at that) so that I could be the one who took on the main carer role in the early years of our children's lives. It could have been him who stayed at home. We talked about that. But maybe he's more driven in terms of wanting to achieve things in the field of paid employment/career. If I'm honest nothing would have stopped me being at home full-time with the kids. I love it. And more than that, I feel it's what I am supposed to do.

But there are sacrifices. I'm not talking here about a loss of career, ambition, connection to the real world or friendships. The sacrifice for me has been purely financial. While successive governments are constantly striving to provide low cost child care and get women back to work the stay at home parent gets nothing. And so there's no choice for a lot of people. If they cannot afford to stay home, they won't. But for many working parents, I know, child care costs are the biggest expense they face, and it only gets higher the more children you have. But let's face it, the teenage nursery nurse or veteran childminder with 30 years experience aren't reaping the financial benefits. They're only getting close to minimum wage usually. And I don't think the kids are gettinig much out of it either. So why not just give parents the choice. Get paid to stay at home and look after your own kids or choose childcare and benefit from help with the costs if necessary. If people have a choice, can actually make decisions about their lives like the adults they are, I'm sure there'd be many more happy parents and the knock on effect? More happy children.

There are many issues here, and I'd welcome your comments or even a debate. I just feel we've lost something. And we need to start thinking differently about how we do things. Especially the big things. How we care for our elderly and sick. How we educate our children. How we eat and how we spend. And somehow we need to find the time to do all of this thinking, and then turn it into action. Because while we're all so busy working hard and often struggling to balance our finances, time, emotions, other people are making decisions. And I'm pretty sure they're the wrong people and the wrong decisions.


Monday, 1 October 2012

Toasty and warm

That's the vibe I'm going for at this year's Bearwood Handmade Christmas fairs. We (Crafty Muthas) are organising two dates again, 24th November and 8th December and we'll be filling Bearwood's St Mary's Church Hall with talented makers and bakers. My table this year is going to be all about warmth, coziness and making you and your home nice and toasty this winter. I'm starting with patch worked draft excluders. Got some lovely recycled and scavenged bits of materials and I'm aiming for a slightly smaller, more stylish draft excluder.

Also, hot water bottle covers. With hot water bottles inside! Got very excited when my shipment of red, natural rubber bottles arrived last week. I'm using pure felted wool (upcycled jumpers) to make cosy covers for these. Everyone needs a hot water bottle. You can cut down on your heating costs and warm your toes wherever you are. Although I like to put mine on my belly. Where do you put yours?

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Here's one I made earlier

This was a recent commission, a wedding present for a couple using the fantastic Bill Withers tune as their first dance/wedding song. Great song, great lyric. Hope the happy couple had a great day.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Foraging Fun

I was a bit poorly last week and so I've been lazing around a lot, keeping out of the heat and generally doing nothing too straining. But on Tuesday I had a date to keep and it ended up being the perfect tonic. My friend Mel had booked me and my crafty mutha mucker Erin onto a foraging course. In Northfield. If you know Birmingham you probably have an idea of Northfield. If you don't know Birmingham, think derelict housing estates, track suits and pound shops. I'm not being a snob here. I'm from Quinton - think track suits and not even pound shops! What I'm getting at is that Northfield, a relatively down at heel brick jungle on the edge of Birmingham, where the ghosts of Kalamazoo and the Longbridge car plant loom large, is not the first place you'd expect to go foraging for wild foods. It's not the first place you'd expect to find an ecocentre either. But we did.

Owned by the Quakers, The Northfield Ecocentre first opened its (presumably well draft proofed) doors in March 2009 and has 'developed a wide variety of activities designed to help individuals and organisations live and work in a more environmentally sustainable way.' They have an event on today: the Brazilian themed Big Lunch & Jubilee Weekend (11am-3pm) and also an Eco Fun Day on World Environment Day (Tuesday 5th June). They run courses throughout the year, including patchwork and quilting, preserving and pickling and some more eco driven sessions around renewable technologies and energy proofing your home. But it was the wild food foraging that we were here for.

The lovely Tom Baker from Loaf was in charge of this foraging foray. At some point around my 40th birthday I was on a waiting list for one of Tom's legendary bread making courses, but the list is big, and I'm not very patient. Do have a look at the Loaf website though, because they are expanding the organisation and moving to new premises soon so there will me much to tempt you I'm sure. Mel has promised to teach me the art of sourdough baking in the meantime, but we definitely needed Tom's advice when it came to foraging. I barely know a bluebell from a buttercup. I exaggerate for alliteration purposes, but I'd be hard pressed to come up with another plant beginning with 'b'. I do though, love food, and discovering new ingredients and flavours, and I'm also partial to a nice walk in the fresh air. And what a lovely, informative walk. Just a few minutes from the Ecocentre and we were alongside the River Rea, in pretty meadows filled with blossom and birdsong and Tom was uncovering horseradish roots, pignuts, meadowsweet and wood avens. We lingered and chatted, picked and tasted, before walking back to the centre for a delicious snack of cheese and crackers, provided by Tom and wild garlic leaves and common sorrel, provided by the wilds of Northfield. Food for free just has to be a good thing. And this was a very good thing.

When I got home, all rested and loved up with nature, I discovered my fridge freezer was on the blink. So began a mammoth cook off. I rescued the meat and fish by handing them over to a kind neighbour for safe keeping and started using up my vegetables and dairy produce. Starting with mango smoothies for breakfast, I then made a banana, mango and yogurt loaf (turned out a bit wet but still tasted lovely), Leek, broad bean and goat's cheese frittata, cherry pie and cauliflower and paneer curry. Finally, I used a spoonful of the wood avens, dug up by Tom at the start of our foraging adventure, chopped finely, in some shortbread. Tom's recipe uses the wood avens to add a faint clove like, mixed spiced sort of flavour to the beautifully crumbly, buttery shortbread. Yum.

And with my lungs full of fresh air, my belly full of good food and my strength restored I even managed to finish up a few hoops yesterday.



Friday, 25 May 2012

Planting acorns

When I was a very young girl I once read a book that described a vegetable garden full of the lushest salad. A character in the story could see the garden from her window but she could not enter. She longed for the salad, dreamed about the salad, grew sick from a lack of tasting the salad. This is an old, much loved story, but for years I couldn't remember what the book was called. I just remembered the salad. I longed for the salad, dreamed about the salad. Thankfully, I didn't grow sick from not tasting the salad. But I did give up hope of ever finding the book. When the Internet came along I regularly googled the words 'salad', 'garden', 'story', to no avail. I asked my mum if she could remember the story and questioned friends. A few said it seemed familiar, but could help no further. When my children were born I spent much time in second hand book shops looking for the elusive tale. Then one day, I started to read my daughter Rapunzel, the famous story of the girl with long tresses, locked up in a tower. And there it was, the desperate pregnant woman craving the luxuriant, green, thick, fresh herb. Craving it so much that she agrees to give up her child in order that she might taste it.

Rapunzel, Paul O. Zelinsky (Penguin)Rapunzel, Paul O. Zelinsky (Penguin)

In the book we own now, the salad is in fact a herb called Rapunzel. The woman "made a salad of the roots and greens, and devoured it with a wild hunger. So intensely delicious was the taste that she nearly fainted as she ate." Can you imagine? This image left an imprint on my childish mind that stayed with me for 30 years. I still long for that bloody salad, knowing that it will always be out of reach to me. But I have that story to thank, I'm sure, for a life long passion for food.

Recently, I've been working on a food buying co-operative idea with friends. We've started taking deliveries of some truly lovely fresh vegetables and salads from some fantastic growers with organic principles and strong ethics. I am very happy indeed about this development. I've always tried to buy the best quality food for my family, but on a tight budget, I've often compromised. Now, I don't have to. Because we are many, we are able to negotiate good discounts. It is a total win, win.

Regular readers will know that I'm keen on nature and that my love for trees in particular and other wildlife filters through to my work. I've also been following the exploits of guerilla gardeners for a couple of years. (It is funny to me how guerillas, once associated with warfare and fighting, have been reworked into just slightly edgy but totally nice artists, knitters or gardeners) Even though I have absolutely no gardening skills whatsoever, or maybe because of it, the idea of growing plants, especially food crops in random areas in the urban environment, on unused grass verges or patches of wasteland really appeals to me. And then, I discovered this book, by accident, as I was looking for a gift for a friend. It sort of said everything.

The Man Who Planted Trees, Jean Giono (The Harvill Press)

The blurb on the back cover explains, "Jean Giono's beautiful allegorical tale is legendary. Written in the 1950's, its message was ahead of its time, inspiring readers to rediscover the harmonies of the countryside and prevent its wilful destruction." It is the story of a solitary shepherd who spends his life planting acorns, and grows a forest. It is thirty pages of loveliness. The shepherd changes his whole environment and that of the surrounding communities. "The ruins had been tidied up, crumbling walls knocked down, and five old houses rebuilt. The hamlet now had twenty-eight inhabitants, including four young couples. The new houses were freshly roughcast and surrounded by kitchen gardens where rows of both vegetables and flowers grew: cabbages mingled with rose bushes, leeks with snapdragons, celery with anemones. It had become a place where one would wish to live." I would live there in a second. And I really want some of that celery. And the the leeks. I'm actually longing for them.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pop Shop

Ah, vintage embroidery hoops. All rustic and vintagey and just perfect for trying out my new instagram thingymewidget. I do have plans for these little hoops beyond taking moody photos of them. Lyric commissions to do and also some embroideries for a great new pop-up shop.

W I Goes Pop is coming to a shop space in Coventry on 28th April and both me and Erin will be representing the Mutha's, showing off our wares (and our skills) with some other, rather cool, artists and makers.

I am quite excited about this because I have a bit of a soft spot for Coventry. I've met a lot of very nice people from there or thereabouts. And.....The Specials. I haven't met The Specials. But Ghost Town was the first single I ever bought and it's still one of my all time favourites. I might just have to sew up another one of these lyric hoops to mark the occasion. I wrote about the impact these words had on a ten year old me over on the crafty muthas blog this time last year - you can still see that post here if you so wish.

So, back to the pop-up shop. In 2009 Theatre Absolute founded the UK's first professional shop front theatre and they will be playing host to the lovely ladies and wicked women of Earlsdon W I for this special pop-up event in Coventry city centre's shopping precinct. I feel chuffed to have been invited to talk about my embroidery and hopefully sell some pieces. Let's hope The Special's very own ghost town is busy with lots of living visitors and shoppers for this awesome event.

Monday, 2 April 2012


Still on the campaign trail for a BetterBearwood. The supporting YouTube video is up on, er, YouTube, and you can watch it and 'like' our Facebook page by clicking this link which will take you to a very fancy 'app'? Way too technical for me, but just click and all will become clear. If you are not a Facebooker you can just watch our sweet film here. Many thanks for your anticipated support good people of Bearwood and beyond. We have so many lovely hopes and dreams for the High Street and this could help us start to realise them.

The doodle is from a few months ago. Been trying to come up with a little 'Bearwood logo' of my own and started this off on the 'brushes' app. Would like to finish it but just ran out of steam. Must do better.









Wednesday, 28 March 2012

We are Bearwood

I've had an interesting and busy few weeks since the overwhelming success of our latest Bearwood Handmade fair. Haven't even had a chance to post about the craziness that was 500 people through the doors in the first two hours. Or being filmed talking about pop-up shops for the local news. Cringe. I did well in terms of sales, as I always do on my home turf. Lovely to see both returning customers and new faces. Someone commented that the whole fair had a bit of a 'post-war' feel about it, and I think it did. If post-war means community coming together, making something from almost nothing with just a bit of time and skill (not to mention love), and of course, with a healthy dose of vintage stylishness amongst all the handmade loveliness, well, I suppose it had to feel a bit 1940's.

This photo kindly provided by Andy Thorpe
On the other hand, with the country in complete financial meltdown, and holding an Olympics in just a few months, there are certainly echos of 1948. In a bad way. Friends are being made redundant, money problems abound, shops are closing and businesses failing every day. This is related, in part, to what I've been up to in recent weeks.

Bearwood, my home for the last twelve years, is bidding to become a Portas Pilot. This is a competition launched by Mary Portas off the telly, and the government, to choose 12 towns that will benefit from a share of £1 million to help turn around "unloved and unused" high streets. It is what sparked the '4 weeks shopping local in Bearwood' project I wrote about last time, and it is why I've been pounding the streets surveying traders and locals and getting people signed up to support our bid. I've dragged the kids to quite a few meetings and on Saturday the whole family joined a large procession of passionate volunteers on the High Street to rally more support (and generally have a good time in the sun.

Check out Sonny (far right, above) looking like a dude in his shades
and Scout (far left, below) swaying to that drum beat.

Our application, with YouTube film, needs to be in this week, so my work on this, for now, is done. Which is a bloody good thing, with the Easter holidays about to start. Looking forward to chilling with my babies, and getting some commissions done too. Mind you, there are a couple of 'underground' projects that I've got going with some friends that I cannot wait to share with you. But wait, I must. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Morning has broken

There's a blackbird in my garden that certainly lets me know a new day is beginning. Every morning, over and over, his little song a-singing. But what glorious company to have on an otherwise dull morning.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


Wow, today I feel like I'm getting old.....and losing my cool. Not that I've ever had much. Very late night, last night. Planning meeting with the Crafty Muthas that went on longer than planned (you'd have thought we could have addressed at least one agenda item seriously!) and then home to the husband who was waiting to watch Masterchef with me. Til one o'clock in the morning! On a school night! That and the two shots of marmalade vodka that Rachel plied me with means I'm feeling stupidly tired and incapable of most things. But, somehow, sewing tiny stitches is just about the perfect thing to do. Not mentally taxing at all but hard enough to keep me awake. Just. These little owls are destined for twigs. They'll perch in pairs and make sweet little mobiles.

In other news, I've been pounding the streets delivering flyers for the Bearwood Handmade fair this month. And I've also been taking part in a fun, local exercise.

Photographer Melanie Martin lives on my road and came up with '4 weeks shopping local in Bearwood' with a view to exploring her perceptions of our beleaguered high street and also to encourage people to shop locally and support independent traders in these tough times. I've joined her and it has proved to be great fun. I'm in the lucky position of 'working' from home so I can make time for shopping trips and I enjoy walking a bit every day. The only thing I don't like about sewing is the fact that you have to do it sitting down. Too much sitting. Anyway, Mel set up a Facebook page and there are a few of us posting about our experiences. To be honest, there aren't many reasons I'd actually choose to visit our high street. Apart from supporting local business and wanting to get out there and mix with people in my community, which is something I've always felt strongly about anyway, there isn't the quality or breadth of choice to satisfy me I'm afraid. I've used it in the past, regularly enough, for top up shops. But now I've found a butcher that I didn't even know existed. And he's a bloody good butcher. So he has at least one new regular.

The thing I'm really enjoying though, the thing that sort of suits my personality I suppose, is reading and writing the Facebook posts. Duh! I love the mundane. And especially the detail in the mundane. The minutiae of everyday life. It's all a bit Nicholson Baker. You can't talk to people in this sort of detail. You'd have no friends. But because this project needs information to make it worthwhile, I'm able to admit that I can quite happily spend ten minutes reading every label on the low-cal squash bottles, before moving on to a discussion about queueing behaviour in one particular store. I'm making it sound really sad aren't I? It's not. It's the most fun I've ever had on Facebook. Oh, okay, that sounds sad too. Just add it to the list. Old, uncool, sad....

I can't end on sad. So here's one more thing that has totally cheered me this week. A lovely blog post on Folksy's online magazine, Frankly. All about the Birmingham art and craft scene...and featuring me. Love it. Thanks guys.


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Blooming leather

I'm slowly starting to prepare for the next Bearwood Handmade, which is fast approaching, and I'm going back to basics to ease myself into making again gently. I've been pretty slack since Christmas really, having worn my skinny little fingers out on some fantastic commissions. January was bleak and cold as always and I find sewing really hard in freezing temperatures when warm blood struggles to reach your extremities. But now with a deadline, 10th March if you fancy coming, I'm itching to get stitching. 
Way back when I first started getting into sewing, it was a little pattern in a magazine for fabric corsages that got me really addicted. I made many, many of these sweet corsages, for fairs and gifts, using felted wool and sometimes denim and then I just stopped. But after I recently spent a couple of days sorting out my fabric stash, I unearthed a whole bag of leather remnants (a donated pair of trousers from a friend and an earlier decade and some tailor's off-cuts) and decided to whip up a few of these lovelies.
For me, they're the perfect sort of accessory. Understated, not showy or sparkly. They go with black or brown, which covers about three quarters of my wardrobe and both pairs of boots! I feel like I'm making an effort. And leather will always be a luxury. I spent a very pleasant day making them, wrapped in a blanket, good tunes playing, drinking buckets of coffee and only stabbing myself a few times. Leather can be a pain to stitch. I've heard you can get proper needles with a triangular point specifically for the task but I wouldn't know a triangular point if it pricked me in the eye and I reckon it'd be just as painful as the one I used.  
Oh, Erin Power did a lovely job on the flyer again, don't you think? So happy to be sharing a table with her again too. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A parcel of penguins

Addicted! This collective noun thing could run and run, I'll warn you now. So this one...a parcel of penguins, is a pretty obscure one but I do so love penguins. Birds with attitude. Did this before we trotted off to our local RSPB site in Sandwell. Alas, no penguins spotted but we did see gorgeous robins and a quite a few wigeons. Wonder what a collection of wigeons is called?
By the way, I was sick of trying and failing to blog through my browser so I've switched to an app called blogsy (I think) which is specifically geared to iPads. So this is yet another trial. Here, are you receiving me?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

A Loveliness Of Ladybirds

A Loveliness Of Ladybirds 2 by jennie from your block
A Loveliness Of Ladybirds 2, a photo by jennie from your block on Flickr.

Okay, I'm out of my comfort zone so stay with me. I've been inspired by the great David Hockney and decided to embrace this IPad. The New Year has not brought a solution to my computer problems but I've got myself the Brushes app and decided to use this sleek little tablet to it's strengths. I've been wanting to do some work around collective animal nouns for ages, to the point where I was risking becoming bored with the idea. So, with kids chilling with the TV and sticker books this morning I've completed my first little sketch. Ladybirds are indeed lovely, but they do have a tendency to pee all over your hand! I'm thinking I'll make an embroidery out of it and also a few prints or cards. What do you think?