Wednesday, 28 September 2011

all sewn up with Beth Wilson

Usually I plan to try out tutorials but don't get round to it. But today when I came across Beth Wilson's brilliant business card tutorial I had a bit of a seize-the-day moment! I took a break at lunchtime and positively whizzed through it, thanks to her fab instructions. Only one problem: I totally got the size wrong (despite her warning about this!) So it morphed into a cute holder for one of my vintage playing card decks (I have quite a collection).

Now I just have to make another one in the CORRECT size for my business cards, and we're golden! I was thinking this would make a pretty sweet Christmas present too... (Either for business cards or for playing cards!) I can imagine some embroidery personalising it... So many options!

Thanks so much for the inspiration and guidance Beth!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

threads from the past

We went to my mother's house at the weekend: husband, baby owl and me. She's recovering from a recent operation (in good spirits, doing well!) Tucked in a corner of a shelf in my brother's room I found my beloved childhood furry owl. I thought he was long lost, but my mum reminded me that he became my brother's for a while (for some reason my brother was rather lacking in stuffed toys!)

We brought him back with us. Baby owl has been feeding him raisins and calls him "boo" (from "hibou", French for owl) and I've been sneaking in the odd cuddle myself! It's amazing how comforting a worn, slightly musty old friend from childhood can be.

I haven't seen many conkers around this Autumn, but it felt right that there should be plenty in the playground near my mother's house. Mother's create such a strong connection with childhood memories and collecting shiny conkers (and reluctantly accepting their eventual shrivelling) is a happy one.

I had to photograph it with one of my mother's hydrangeas in the background: white, becoming pink-dappled for Autumn. Unlike Madonna I LOVE hydrangeas (though I prefer them a little more natural-looking than the one her "fan" gave her)! I have a cutting of this one in our garden. It's been in the family since a friend gave it to my mother in 1990.

Toys, conkers, flowers... I love all these threads that connect me to my childhood and are now being sewn into the life of the next generation!

Monday, 26 September 2011

find me

Here's something new for my Etsy shop: a one-off collage badge made from a piece of a vintage map (1940s UK Ordonnance Survey, I think) and an image of a deer. I thought it would be nice to package it with this vintage fairytale playing card, since that's the kind of atmostphere I had in mind while making it.

I do love to make tiny, wearable collages.

Friday, 23 September 2011

there are more owls inside

I am fascinated by Russian dolls, or matryoshka. I really don't know much about them or their history (but there's a good post about them here), but for me they represent maternity and reproduction, the extraordinary fact of one person coming from another. They also make me think of the way we all have multiple selves: look inside me and there are many women, each one different, each one me.

Of course, part of the fun of nesting dolls is that the traditional ones are often painted the same, so there is the delight of progressive miniaturisation (you know, the way smaller versions of things are always appealing?) As a child, I always most loved the tiniest doll, and I preferred the sets where she was (almost) as beautifully detailed as the largest mother-of-mothers.

For a beautifully eclectic and international collection of nesting dolls, click here to visit Ingrid's Nesting Doll site.

It occurred to me that this curvy shape would make a good owl and I started to have visions of owls nesting one inside the other. A glance around the web led me to many interesting examples of this. I am most definitely not the first person to spot this affinity!

There are classic, realistic owls, like this beautiful set by Terry Savage, creating an odd family of a Snowy Owl, a Great Horned Owl, a Barn Owl, a Screech Owl and a little Saw Whet Owl still sitting in his eggshell (how cute!)

There are also strange, stylised owls, like these ones, which seem to capture an atmosphere of Russian folkiness with the use of black/gold colours, lace, tree imagery and a spooky skeleton as the final doll.

I discovered a whole world of extraordinary matryoshka artists, like Irina Troitskaya, who creates all kinds of dream-like animals in the form of nesting dolls. If only I could discover what was inside these owls...

I also love this set found in My Owl Barn's Flickr photostream: the funky, slighly 70s colours and forms and the characterful owls with big, stylised features are so appealing. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out any more information about them so far. I'll update if I do.

*update* These amazing owls are from Things With Wings. You can find out more about them in this interview

Finally, I'm not the only one in our household to be fascinated. Baby owl plays with his "poupée russe" (Russian doll) every day at the moment. He especially loves it when he opens a doll and a smaller one leaps out, it makes him laugh!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

baby steps

As I wrote in this post, last year my mum gave me sewing lessons for my birthday. I haven't made a lot of progress since then, as I found combining looking after a tiny baby and sewing quite tricky. I'm still working on a quilt I started making for baby owl nearly a year ago (and it's looking pretty wonky at the moment!)

However I do really love it and I just keep trying, whenever I get a moment. Yesterday evening I was inspired by thinking about my friend's baby who is due to arrive any day now. I also wanted to try out an appliqué technique using bondaweb + top stitch. So I made little Jacob a snuggly with ribbon tags of different textures and appliqué star and 'J', using some odd pieces of fabric I had lying around.

At around 2-3 months, babies love touching different textures with their hands (and tongues!): shiny satin ribbons, soft velvet ones, embroidered ones, even the stitching on the appliqués and the squidgy stuffing - it's all new and interesting to them!

It's not a complicated thing to make and it's far from perfect (top stitch went seriously off course on the 'J'!) But it's all good practice and I always learn something...taking baby steps to (eventual) sewing proficiency!

Monday, 19 September 2011

soul food

In a bid to eat more healthily, we've started receiving a weekly delivery of local, organic vegetables. Here's the thing: I love vegetables. I could be a vegetarian without much trouble. I like meat, but for me it just doesn't have the variety of flavours and textures you get from vegetables.

The only problem is that my husband just isn't that keen on all things green. Gradually over the years we've been living together I've started to eat fewer vegetables and the range has become more limited. The veggie box is encouraging us to eat things that don't usually appear on our shopping list: chard, cabbage, runner beans, broccoli (my favourite, my husband's most hated).

This is good for baby owl, whose tastes, we suddenly noticed after a hectic few months of combining working and parenting (and lazy cooking) are also in danger of becoming even more limited than his dad's!

Baby owl hasn't tried the chard yet (we never push anything if he refuses it) but he did eat a mushroom when I cooked this dish. Small victories, yay!

And I also bought a butternut squash and made this gorgeous spread by Yotam Ottolenghi (get the recipe here) with tahini, garlic and yoghurt. This is my idea of perfect comfort food. 

Friday, 16 September 2011


A little package arrived from Distinctly Ivy today, containing these lovely owl earrings. One of the things I love about Etsy is receiving things through my letterbox! These earrings are perfect for Autumn. (They also featured in my mustard treasury).

This September rose arrived too, peachy petals opening fully today. I love the blush colour of this tiny intricate rose. I neglected her somewhat this summer so I didn't think she'd be appearing again, but here she is!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

happiness is a warm blog

Lots of good things are happening online and I thought I'd take a moment to list a few! First off, I'm feeling very happy about winning a sweet owl made by Rabbitsmoon in a giveaway on  Itty Bitty Cute and Pretty.

Sweet and rather unusual, don't you think? Talk about lucky! What made it better still was watching the draw on a video blog post and seeing my name drawn! This really makes me want to hold my own giveaway soon, to spread the love.

Itty Bitty Cute and Pretty's blog is well worth checking out. She collects Japanese Pose Dolls. I'd never heard of them before but found out all about them thanks to her blog and the amazing Flickr galleries. I love collections and collectors!

The second cool thing is having my new Japanese fabric pinback badges featured on illustrator Sven Palmowski's blog Badge Review. It's always nice to be chosen!

My photography is somewhat hit and miss and I know my photos of these badges aren't the best, so it's reassuring to think that their prettiness shines through. I love Badge Review - Sven always finds the coolest badges (or pins, or buttons, or whatever you want to call them) His are nice too - I own some.

Two other instances of warm and fuzzy online generosity and creativity are Magic Jelly's foxy Haiku contest (deadline Monday 19th September) and A is for Ampersand's Paper Sparrow giveaway (you can win $25 of Paper Sparrow goodies, winner announced 20th September).

This beautiful Folk Like Us bracelet by Magic Jelly will be a prize for one lucky Haiku writer. These bracelets will feature in her soon-to-open online shop.

8x10 print by Paper Sparrow

That's three creative and pretty blogs to follow, two amazing prizes to hope for and one fox-inspired Haiku written. Oh happy days.

Here's my Haiku (see the others here, inspiring!):

Autumn nights grow cold
A fox comes to the city
A strange cry is heard

Fantastic foxes pendant by Paper Sparrow

Update: Can't believe I posted this before the amazing Cat-tastic blog party & giveaway on Paper Sparrow, just click the button below!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Saint Joan

I went with my friend to see Joan As Police Woman in London this weekend. We both agreed that there is something mystical about her live performance. It is incredibly intense and all-absorbing. She manages that perfect combination of capturing everything I love about her recorded music (some of which I describe in this post) and yet making it new in the moment of performance.

She is incredibly present and alive as she sings and plays. It's not only moving; it also makes her astoundingly beautiful and cool. The only other performer I know who achieves this kind of intensity is the extraordinary Patti Smith.

I saw Joan play once before and this gig was completely different. Some of her new songs have a more rocky, sexy edge. Strangely, a decision was made (by whom I know not) to change the layout from standing to seating at the last minute, yet this was Joan As Police Woman that made us want to dance and move! At one point she told us we could still dance in our seats, making an incredible, idiosyncratic swaying gesture with her upper body that made us collectively laugh and tingle, and wish we could dance like that in our seats!

She and her band had been on the road since January without a break and I thought I could feel the tiredness somehow, in her voice that sounded no less beautiful but perhaps slightly strained. And yet at the end, for her final song, her voice seemed to float out from her body, bringing with it her soul. We were all standing, mesmerised, transformed.

Friday, 9 September 2011

lunch-break gift

So I nearly forgot my goddaughter's birthday, bad, bad person that I am! This meant I didn't have time to buy something beautiful and handcrafted on Etsy as I'd planned and I had to find something fast that would appeal to an 11 year-old girl. I also wanted it to be something that would be more than just a "thing", something that might encourage creative exploration in some way. This is what I came up with in my lunch break:

Flower stamps and ink, coloured pencils in a floral tube, apple-shaped pencil sharpener, heart-shaped stickers, butterly and doll stickers, elaborate relief stickers, a postcard featuring a colourful bird, a patterned notepad and a pretty floral bag to put it all in.

What creative ideas do you have for presents for pre-teen girls or for last-minute gifts?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

flowers, kitten, charms

Wearing today: washed-out pink, green and duck-egg floral dress by Joules, old black vest and grey cardigan, charm necklace bought in Kensington Market in Toronto and a cute kitten badge.

I bought this necklace when I was already visibly pregnant and wore it everyday. I love the charms: a white mother-of-pearl heart, a brass charm that says "going steady" on it, a heart outline and a tiny elephant. Then I stopped wearing it because baby owl would grab it. He still does, but more gently now he's older, so I'm wearing it again.

It reminds me of being pregnant, my whole body almost vibrating with anticipation and wonder. It also reminds me of Toronto. I loved the city. I bought an old 1960s Penguin edition of Faulkner's Light in August and didn't notice till I got it home that it had a picture of a pregnant woman on the front. In fact it's a lot about a pregnant woman's long journey, her stubbornness, her endurance.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


One of my aims for this month is to try healthy new recipes and do more home-cooking. It can be hard trying to juggle baby owl, work, and being a domestic goddess! 

However I think the yummy baking smell of these gorgeous, sticky, yet not-too-naughty, date, apple and banana muffins is a step in the right direction! Recipe below (they are super easy and quick to make).


200g/7oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
50g/2oz wholemeal flour
50g/20z light brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
125ml/4 fl oz semi-skimmed milk
2 tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
1 large apple, grated
50g banana, mashed
100g dates, chopped

How to make them
  • Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4
  • In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together (flours, baking powder, cinnamon, sugar)
  • In another bowl, mix the eggs, milk and oil.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix just enough to combine fully (lumpy batter is good for muffins!)
  • Then stir in the apple, banana and dates
  • Divide between 12 muffin cases and bake for 25 mins
  • Cool on wire rack... then devour at least one and save the rest for later! Will keep for several days.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

new fabric badges

For a while now I've been meaning to list some new badges (pinback buttons) on Etsy. I've been making these sweet badges for some time and wearing them or giving them as presents to friends. I've also been collecting vintage playing-cards to display them on. Don't you just love these cute owls in the snow, with the title 'A Wise Double'? Perfect for a sweet pair of badges made from Japanese fabric.

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