Sunday, 27 July 2014

The only words I have at the moment

I was in my garden a couple of days ago, enjoying the sunshine. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a tiny caterpillar wriggling in a spider's web. The spider was about four times the size of this baby creature. The young caterpillar was fighting for its life. I had to admire its struggle. The spider was in no rush to finish the job. It knew its carefully constructed web had trapped its victim and was happy to watch on while the brave little caterpillar tried to escape. Cornered and exhausted, we all knew the mighty spider would eventually overpower its prey.

Meanwhile on the radio, a reporter was describing the devastation currently being reigned on Gaza. I couldn't ignore the blindingly obvious analogy. The drama being played out in my garden was happening on a much bigger, human scale on the small strip of land where too much blood has already been shed. I'm sickened, outraged, appalled and angry about what the Israeli Government are doing to the innocent people of Palestine. I feel totally powerless to help. I'm just watching from my comfortable home, listening to the murder of thousands from my sunny garden, going about my daily routines; cooking food for my family, getting drunk with friends, liking pretty things on Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram, worrying about the fate of one small multi-legged creature. I feel so guilty. I feel like I never want to post another link about a craft fair or the health benefits of organic food, 'like' another upbeat status, share pictures of the fun I'm having, while people's homes are being destroyed, hospitals are being bombed, arrogant leaders are spouting nonsense about their right to defend themselves. I feel impotent and powerless. What can I do to help? The very least I can do is use my blog to help spread the message about this terrible situation and encourage others to do the same.

I'd been watching the spider and caterpillar play out their own battle for about five minutes when somehow the caterpillar managed to wiggle free of its webby prison and I gasped as it fell to the ground. Me and the spider could only watch as the exhausted creature crawled away to freedom. It would be crass of me to continue this analogy when human beings are dying. But I, for one, am supporting the people of Palestine in their struggle.

Here's a first hand account of the atrocity happening in Gaza, well informed, intelligent and moving, something worth reading and watching from the British journalist Jon Snow.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Sewing For My Supper

I am still struggling to find time for crafting in between my work at Hobzy, looking after a growing family, the food co-op I'm involved with and organising craft fairs with the Crafty Muthas. I didn't manage to have a stall at either Bearwood Handmade event this year, although I did spend both days in the kitchen, serving tea and refreshments to the hundreds of visitors - which was equally fun and tiring!

I assuaged my guilt at not making enough to have a stall by taking on a few commissions, though as I write, one remains unstarted! There's that guilt again ;) One of my oldest friends asked me to make a gift for a new baby. "A hoop with embroidery - you did a treehouse last time" were the instructions. So that got me thinking - I needed a new design. I came up with bunting. Not very original, granted, but I was happy with the finished piece. Might even put this in my shop so that people can commission their own.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Reading Lists 4 + 5 + 6

The inspiration for Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch

Yeah, that title says it all. I've been reading a lot and not finding time to write about it! As this is an overdue catch up I'll just keep it short and sweet. Some good books here...the first three quarters of The Goldfinch being the stand-out for the sheer beauty and brilliance of the writing. Had been meaning to read Slaughterhouse Five for years and really pleased I did. The Husband's Secret was a proper page-turner and I really enjoyed Life After Life, which I'm happy about as I'd sort of gone off Kate Atkinson. The Zero - a dark, 9/11 themed, mad trip inside a cop's head was hard going but worth it. The rest were decent enough. Sometimes you just need to lose yourself in a story for a little while :)

Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut
The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
Everyone's Reading Bastard - Nick Hornby
What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty
The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt
Missing in Malmo: The third Inspector Anita Sundstrom mystery - Torquil MacLeod
The Zero - Jess Walter
Fractured - Dani Atkins
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Totally Wired - New adventures with wool and wire

wrapped wire hello over mantle piece

A bit of a departure for me. In a way. I'm trying something that doesn't involve stitching. I am still stitching. In fact I have a number of commissions to be getting on with and probably shouldn't be writing blog posts, but, well it's too dark for sewing now anyway.

I wrote something for the Hobzy blog not long ago, featuring some wrapped wire words. I'd seen a few on Pinterest and was really taken with them. Anyone who knows me knows I love words. I read loads of books, I love listening to singer songwriters, I incorporate words into my stitching, I can talk and talk, and so the idea of combining textiles and wire to form a big old word really appealed.

So time for another departure. I bought stuff! Loads of neon wool. And wire in different thicknesses. Perhaps this is what a mid life crisis feels like? Spending money? On bright colours? Me?

selection of neon wool and wire

I came up with ideas for a number of words to start wrapping, then asked friends for their ideas. And by the power of facebook, I've now got a massive list. First up, I chose 'Word'. I used a medium thick wire and clumsily shaped it. Then started wrapping the yarn round and round and round. Used a blob of glue to start with, then got a bit tied up in knots, tried to undo it, twisted the wire a little too much, and snapped off the bleedin' W.

neon wool and broken wire

For my second attempt I used a thicker wire and tried wrapping it a bit first, before shaping. Continuing on in this way, I ended up with a pretty good 'hello'. Not perfect, and I still got myself into a mess a few times, but not bad. Only took most of the morning. But I've learnt a few lessons. You'll have to watch this space to see how I progress. I'm hoping to have a whole heap made for the next Bearwood Handmade event on 7th June.

wire wrapped wire spelling hello


Thursday, 24 April 2014

"On Wednesdays we wear pink"

Little bitty blog post as the kids are still on Easter hols and there's not a lot of time for anything! I did manage to fit in a quick commission this week though. A returning customer after another hoop featuring a Mean Girls quote. I had never seen the film, in fact I thought it was a TV series, but all that got fixed last night. I watched it online and thoroughly enjoyed the silly high school bitch fest. Nothing particularly original but a nice way to wind down after a busy day, while scoffing the kids chocolate. Shhh, don't tell. 

on wednesdays we wear pink embroidered hoop mean girls
Work has been busy, reaching out to lots of makers for our new site, Handmake Me. We're looking for makers of high quality bespoke, customisable products. It's taking a while but I'm meeting lots of new people, seeing lots of great products (and some really not so great) and enjoying the process. One of the things we're doing to raise our profile is hosting a twitter chat. #handmakemeet happens every Monday on twitter between 8-9pm. Please do join us, and tell your friends. It's a great way to meet like minded people and build your networks, whether you're looking for advice or just a bit of exposure.

handmake meet hashtag over picture of balloons

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Reading Lists 3

March was a very busy month and I found myself all too often staggering up the stairs to bed, very sleepily and unable to read a thing. These are the two books I managed to read - yes books - not Kindle offerings this time:

Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam was a big heavy hardback - how my poor weak wrists struggled with that. This signed first edition was lent to me by a friend (thanks Mel) and so I had the pressure of taking extra special care of it! The final episode of the trilogy was just as good as the previous two, and driven by strong female characters, which is always a bonus.

Roald Dahl's original writing hut re-housed in the museum

I bought Roald Dahls's Boy on a trip with the kids to his Museum and Story Centre  in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. The museum is amazing. I recommend that everyone go. He was a story telling genius obviously, but the museum manages to capture the warmth and intelligence of the man, and really highlights what a unique individual he was. The book is him recounting some of his early, most vivid, memories. Truthfully, it was almost too much for me. So many thrashings and canings, the sheer wickedness of so many adults (teachers usually) from his frighteningly violent public school education. Having a son of the same age, an intelligent, thoughtful, imaginative son too, I couldn't help but imagine him coping with the same harshness and loneliness. Quite heart breaking.  

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bearwood Handmade Spring

Framed piece by The Paper Rose Boutique

I had the most fantastic day on Saturday. Myself, Ceri, Christina, Erin, Nat, Jayne and Rachel aka the Crafty Muthas hosted Bearwood Handmade Spring. The turn out, even though we'd moved from our regular venue to a brand new building, was immense, and there was the usual happy atmosphere, a real community coming together.

Beautiful basket by Papier TrouvĂ© 
We had some new stall holders for this event, plus some of our favourite makers returning, and whilst I was run off my feet most of the day, helping Bearwood Pantry serve up foody treats, I did manage to get a few pics of some pretty.

Beautiful fragrances from Mommy Bear's Soy Wax Melts and Candles

Tactile loveliness from Felti
The work now begins on Bearwood Handmade Summer. June 7th will be here before I know it. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Mad March

Busy old month. Seems like everyone I speak to says the same. Mustn't complain though when there are still more happy than stressy days. March started off in the most excellent way with an old friend's wedding. My mate Hils was never going to go for the virginal white, blushing bride look and the wedding was never going to be one of those uptight affairs. So I made a card to match the vibe.

handmade card hils and mick and rock and roll

The kids have been keen to get their craft on this month. Both have had a go at a little embroidering. Scout chose a transfer that came in a lovely kit she got for her birthday. 

girl holding embroidery of hedgehog

And Sonny went for his long standing obsession. A Moshling! He drew the picture himself and traced it through the fabric. 

boy holding moshling embroidery

I completed a lyric hoop for my first commission on Handmake Me. Yay! One of my favourite tracks from Minnie Riperton. Such beautiful lyrics.

embroidered lyrics noone else can make me feel the colours that you bring

That's it from me for now. Busy, busy. Marching on.....

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Reading Lists 2

year of the flood book cover

Just a quick review of February's reading for world book day. What with not having the extended Christmas/New Year holiday I haven't read nearly as much as I did last month, but I have enjoyed what I've read and it's all about quality not quantity, right? So here goes:

The Heart Goes Last : Positron Episode 4 - Margaret Atwood

Back Bone - How To Build The Character Your Child Needs To Succeed

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

The Year of The Flood - Margaret Atwood

Pride an Prejudice - Jane Austen *

*Am I the only woman in the western world not to have read Pride and Prejudice? I have also never seen the film or TV series. I've seen a bit of Bridget Jones. Does that count? Anyway, I've never got on with Jane Austen, and I'm not even reading this now. But I have listened to two instalments of the current dramatisation on Radio 4. And I'm quite enjoying it.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The good and the bad. No ugly here!

February, comes along every year, bringing all sorts of unwelcome gifts. We've had colds, sickness, sinusitis. Not a day goes by without one of us feeling bleurghhhh. I'll be glad to see the back of it. There have been a few positives though.

geometric bird embroidery in hoop

I've had a few commissions. This one was finished last weekend. Another bird surrounded by geometric chaos. Still love doing them. I was hoping to do a budgie but discovered budgies don't have much of a profile. Something to do with the beak. No good for this type of silhouette style anyway. Would still like to crack a budgie though. Someday.

Me and the other Crafty Muthas have found a great new venue for our regular handmade fairs. It's not a million miles away from the old venue, but it'll be like starting over again. Relationships to build, table plans to work out, and there's some outside space we're thinking of using too, in the warmer months. Exciting for us and hopefully great for all of Bearwood Handmade's stall holders and customers.

I've been blogging elsewhere and really enjoying it. I've started writing for Craft Business, a blog for anyone interested in making some money from their passion for crafts. I've been researching and writing some seriously long posts about craft fairs and I've learned loads in the process.

handmake me screen grab of home page

At work, we've been testing a new site out which I'm really eager to share. Handmake Me is all about commissioning one-off pieces, something totally bespoke or maybe personalised. We're connecting buyers with makers and I think this site has huge potential. We could become the go to site for anyone wanting to commission personalised gifts, customised fashion, one-off jewellery etc. Lots of hard work in the meantime. I say work, we're actually scouring the country for great designers and makers for the site, which means I get to check out lots of creative, fun stuff. Getting a right little wish list together!

So February hasn't been all bad. I'm still sniffing and freezing but Spring is nearly here. And I LOVE Spring.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Reading Lists

Beautiful Ruins book by Jess Walter

I've decided to blatantly rip off my lovely friend Jo and record what I read every month right here on my blog. This is in part because books are so important in my life, and also because for my last birthday I received a Kindle from my lovely Muthas.

I was a bit unsure at first. Could I really enjoy a book if I couldn't hold on to it - admire the cover, rest a coffee cup on it, fold page corners and break spines? I adore the books I have but I don't treat them particularly well (unless they're from the Library!). In years to come, when I pick up a well read favourite, it won't just be the story that speaks to me, but the creases and stains, the little notes from the kids used as bookmarks or the occasional receipt for mundane essentials, that stir the memories. A book is a very special thing.

Five months on from receiving my Kindle and after a very slow start, I'm hooked. Yes, the ease and convenience of buying cheap books while I lie in bed, and being able to read them immediately, has won me over. The flat, dull screen can't compare to a book's pages, but it doesn't have the glare that comes with phones or tablets and it is very kind to my eyes. Yeah, page turning with a clicky button isn't great, and I have a few other niggles, but this isn't a Kindle review.

What I am hoping to do though, through recording the books I read on a monthly basis, is hold on to a few of the memories. This is a place to record my favourites, make recommendations and highlight the little details that have made each book memorable. So here goes with January's reading list.

Don't Eat Cat - Jess Walter - a Kindle Single by the author of the above pictured book 'Beautiful Ruins', which was one of my favourite reads of last year. This is completely different to that book. It's a dark, funny, dystopian zombie short that kick-started my New Year (and established a theme for the month). Planning to read more of Mr Walter's work.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins - Started late New Year's day and finished by the next morning. I became so obsessed with the series that I hardly slept....great holiday reading.

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Trilogy) - Suzanne Collins - My favourite of the three and devoured in the same way as the first.....

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy) - Suzanne Collins - I felt bereft when I'd finished. Such a great story. Simple prose, with many twists and turns. So pleased that someone is writing strong female characters that young people can identify with. And I have to admire a writer that can get me to enjoy a story about children killing each other!

The Invisible Circus - Jennifer Egan - Another favourite from last year was Egan's 'A Visit From The Goon Squad'. I love her writing and this book, her debut, is a coming of age story that takes place in the US and Europe. It was an emotional, beautiful read. Loved the sex scenes too ;)

Positron : Episodes 1-3 - Margaret Atwood - Oh yeah, straight back to dystopia! Nice short reads, amusing and horrific as you'd expect. Already read episode 4, but that's for next month!

Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundle - Started reading this to the kids at the end of January and haven't finished yet but I couldn't not mention it. So brilliantly, beautifully written. The language is so striking. It has started many conversations about words or situations, history or convention. There's something of the Pippi Longstocking about it. My kids love an orphan's story!

Rooftoppers book by Katherine Rundell

Monday, 27 January 2014

late january inspiration

Walking with children

I've written about things that inspire me before, usually music, books, art or nature. But I wanted to write more about being inspired by the every day, or, depending on how you look at it, the extraordinary.

Since my children were old enough to toddle, we've pounded the streets, on errands or just for pleasure. I love walking and my kids to be fair, have never complained about walking to the High Street, or to the library, park or friends' houses.

Usually, as we leave the house, shut the door behind us and emerge onto the pavement, I'll casually reach out my hand sideways and without even looking, open up my palm. Almost immediately a smaller, podgier version of my hand will find my own. I clasp onto it and we'll walk together throughout our journey. This happened with my son until his little sister was old enough to walk but more often than not, it'll be her hand in mine now. This is such a normal, casual, everyday occurrence that most of the time I hardly notice we're doing it. But some days...

holding hands mum and daughter

Some days as I reach out my hand and it meets and enfolds my daughter's little hand I catch my breath for a second. There's a swell of pride and love of course, the feeling that I am her protector in this big, bad world. There's also the comfort of knowing that this hand irrefutably belongs in mine, that we are and will be for ever tied together. Our love comes easily, without question, and in this one simple gesture, one that is so completely normal, I feel something exquisitely wonderful and simultaneously painful.

The feeling is tinged with sadness because I know that our days are numbered. There'll come a time when we won't hold hands. Not in the same way at least. I'll feel a certain loss when the time comes I'm sure. But time needs to pass. We need to keep moving. I remember being completely aware, on a summer school day back in the early eighties, playing leapfrog with my friends and knowing this would be the last time. We were all getting a little too big for childish games, with our tight skirts and pop star plastered lockers. I think I slipped into melancholy for a while. But there were things to come, life experiences, that I couldn't even imagine, aged eleven. I knew they were coming though. And that filled me with excitement.

I suppose I'm talking about finding inspiration from wherever you can. About concentrating on the details, taking time to enjoy and be inspired by the minutiae of the everyday. Also there's something about trying to capture transitions. Nature gives us some awesome examples - when the setting sun drops from the horizon, or a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. Can I possibly capture something like that in an embroidery? I have no idea. Perhaps it's enough just now to be aware, and to enjoy holding my daughter's hand while I still can.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

how to avoid pneumonia and other thoughts about crafting

Ever ask yourself why you make stuff? I started sewing and crafting when I left my vaguely creative job as a factual entertainment/documentary producer to have and raise my children. I still needed a creative outlet. What I realise now is that my old job was really about story telling, and so are the craft pursuits I really love now. Whether it's embroidering meaningful lyrics or creating a personality for a stitched character, there's always a story in it for me.

embroidered song lyrics jackson sisters

Over the last few years, as my craft skills developed, I started making more things to sell. I sell most of what I make. I do well from the three or four fairs I help organise a year with Bearwood Handmade. And I get a few commissions throughout the year to keep me busy. But sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the need to find a piece or product that people will immediately like and want to buy. I'm sure anyone who has ever had a handmade stall or online shop has felt the same. It's trying to second guess the market. Big companies spend millions on developing and predicting trends. It's not something we in the handmade world can hope to do.

hand stitched felt men

I've written about these feelings before, here. Good friends told me to keep it real and go with what I loved making. And that proved to be great advice. I suppose it's taking a more artistic view. But like many artists, I sort of need a muse. Not so much as a source of inspiration, but as the driving force, to make it all worthwhile.  I can't just make for me. I have to think someone else is going to love what I'm making as much as I do. More even. I can't help that, it's just how I tick.

origami papercraft boat made from book page

I found this quote today from writer Kurt Vonnegut, of Slaughterhouse-Five fame, which I'm sharing on here so I'll have it as a constant reminder. It's about writing, but I think it can be applied to any creative pursuit. It's good advice and funny:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

I'm trying to avoid the pneumonia. Stick to what I love. And for 2014, make things with just one person in mind. Do you have plans for finding inspiration or for boosting your creativeness this year? Do you have a favourite quote that helps you focus? Care to share?

Once again, my other plan is to blog more. Ha, I can but try. After such a break I suppose I'll be lucky if even one person reads this, so the 'write to please just one person' hasn't been a stretch at all!