Tuesday, 31 January 2012

old books and remembered places

I love old books: the yellowing pages, rough-edged where they have had to be torn open by the book's first reader, the old-fashioned letter-pressed fonts, the sense that someone else's hands have held them.
This is something I'm currently reading, a book called Three, Six, Nine by the French early-20th-century writer Colette, one of my favourite authors.
Written in 1941-2, it is about all the different places she has lived. I love the way her memories of places lead us to her emotions at the time, as she describes her nomadic existence within the city of Paris, moving from apartment to apartment in the wake of failed love affairs.
Three homes become six, and then nine... all described with delicate poetry, telling us of the intimate connections between the places we live and our feelings, dreams and memories. I just wish I knew who first bought this book in 1946 (when it was published). I wonder where that person lived and dreamt, and what journey this book took in order to be sold to me over the internet in 2011?

Here is a little counterpart to these reflections: a song sung by Fran├žoise Hardy in 1966 about a beloved childhood home in the country that has now vanished, overtaken by the city's bricks and concrete.

Isn't she beautiful? I might have to write a post about Fran├žoise Hardy sometime!

Monday, 30 January 2012


You might remember from these posts that I have an enduring love for ribbons. In fact this dates back to my earliest childhood.
Most little children become attached to an object that comforts them. Mine was a "silky". This could be almost any piece of soft, satiny ribbon. I used to stroke it gently above my top lip. I had a little collection of "silkies" and was rarely seen without one for many years of my childhood!
If my mum took my brother and I to a department store, I would try to seize the chance to try out all the silkies in the ribbon department. If I ever got lost, my mum would always know where to find me!
Now I'm all grown-up I still love ribbons - of all textures, not just silky ones (though if I am given a piece of especially smooth ribbon I will still sometimes bring it up to my lip, instinctively). I still love the department store rows of ribbons, but I also like to re-use ribbons that wrap gifts and I also like to source vintage ribbon, like the spool of pretty green, above.
I love the way ribbon can transform very basic materials into something special, the way this floppy bow makes an old piece of fraying burlap and recycled tissue paper look decorative. Etsy has some great sources of vintage ribbon.
This last one - delicate eggshell pink - is so pretty and silky-looking. Just looking at it is comforting - I can imagine the familiar gesture of my childhood and that reassuring soft touch.

Friday, 27 January 2012

seeing what's near

I spend a lot of time wishing I could visit this place and that place. The blog world has given me a great image of Portland, Oregan (is it really craft heaven?) and I've always wanted to go to Japan. My recent visit to Austin, Texas reminded me what a cool city it is. But the truth is, I live in a pretty incredible place as it is.
Yesterday as I was popping out of work for some lunch, I suddenly noticed the market, whose striped awnings brighten up the aptly named Market Square on a daily basis.
As well as the inevitable touristy bits and bobs, here you can find locally-grown vegetables, home-made bread and cakes, vintage clothes, a dressmaker who'll fix hems etc., a second-hand book stall, and various crafty sellers offering ceramics, wooden toys, jewellery...
It struck me that if I were a visitor here I'd think this the most incredible market and wish I had something like that every day in my own town! As it is, I tend not to notice it until I need it. Taking some photos in true tourist style helped me see it anew. Sometimes it's good to be a tourist in your own city.
I was also struck by the number of men in hats and waxed jackets at this second-hand book stall!
On my way back to work I walked past one of my favourite local shops: ARK. They sell all kinds of pretty, homely, unusual bits and pieces (a good supply of vintage ribbon), and they have another outlet with vintage clothes.

Obviously the market is not the most beautiful thing about Cambridge and there are many other beautiful things (buildings, especially) that  I walk past every day without fully appreciating them.

But this just happened to be what I saw at a particular moment, with some dramatic clouds and light, and it reminded me how lucky I am to live somewhere that has more on offer than chain stores.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

patchwork love

My mother came to stay this weekend and on Saturday evening she helped me to finish the patchwork quilt (not strictly a quilt, but I don't know what else to call it!) I have been making for my little 1 1/2 year-old boy.
I can't tell you how delighted I am to have finished this project at last! I started making it when the little one was just 4 months old. I've never made patchwork before. I didn't really know about the availability of tutorials and things on the web back then: I figured out how I was going to do it during the long wakeful nights with a baby.
It is made from 120 10cm squares of very diverse fabrics: some scraps I bought in Paris (when the little one was just months old, in the baby carrier), scraps of old sheets and curtains from my mum, vintage material bought on ebay and new Japanese fabrics I found on Etsy (the cute owls, the brown polka dots). The border is new cotton - I was looking for light turquoise but settled on this totally mis-matching green. The backing is made from a 1970s sheet I found on Etsy (more about that in this post).
I wanted a random pattern and one evening my husband helped me lay out the pieces to get that effect - easier said than done! I remember the baby was upstairs sleeping - a rare occurrence at the time, since he seemed to need our proximity to sleep - and we were rushing to get it done before his next awakening!
I put all the squares in order in numbered plastic bags to preserve the layout... and there they stayed. For a long time. For nearly a year. And then suddenly my baby was a toddler who would sleep in the evenings and I could sew. I was determined to finish this for his Christmas present, but I didn't quite manage it. I was nervous about stitching on the border and putting the 3 layers together. My mum helped guide me through this bit and here it is!
One of my favourite childhood books was The Patchwork Cat. It combines two of my lifelong loves: patchwork and cats, in a tale about a musty old quilt that got thrown out. But the cat loved that quilt and followed it on its journey to the rubbish dump (see more about the tale and more pictures here). I hope my little boy's quilt will be like that: an object that surpasses all its imperfections because it is loved. It was made with love.
And I'm delighted to say that the little one loves it! He has been playing a game of "ni'night" with it in the mornings and rolling himself up in it. I hope it will always be a comfort to him.

Monday, 23 January 2012

green-eyed owl

In more owl-related news, I finally finished off my owl brooch, based on the tutorial from Andrea at Paper Sparrow.
I think it looks pretty with my new handmade green cowl from Beth of Deer Little Fawn, which was part of the fabulous prize I won in her recent giveaway (another lovely blog, full of sweet and pretty things, for you to get acquainted with!)
{I love Beth's cowl so much I've been wearing it non-stop all weekend!}
Back to the brooch: Andrea's tutorial was featured in the Autumn Blog Party at Laura's Blue-Eyed Night Owl blog.
I was so delighted when I received Andrea's lovely parcel full of goodies I'd ordered plus a whole lot more besides. Included was one of the beautiful owl brooches she made for the blog party! 
 I love to wear it with this vintage jacket.
She also sent one to Laura (Blue Eyed Night Owl), which you can see in this post. I think I may make some more as presents now I've got the hang of it!

Friday, 20 January 2012

flour sack owl

Remember the pretty flour sacks my dad gave me that I wrote about in this post? Well, one of them has become part of this lavender-filled owl I made for a dear friend of my dad's. So this material will be winging its way back over to Austin - I like that thought.
This little creature is made entirely from vintage or salvaged material: vintage scraps from Rag Rescue for the wings, some flannel and wools scraps from my treasure trove for the mask and beak, vintage buttons for the eyes and part of an old sheet of my mum's for the back and eyes. Even the twine for hanging it is recycled (it bound a bundle of fabric I bought).
I think he'll do a great job of perfuming a wardrobe and guarding against pesky moths. I'm grateful for the inspiration from Ashlie, who posted this great collection of owl tutorials on her blog!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

think pink!

There's no doubt about it: pink is a fabulous colour. It's just not possible (for me, anyway) to make a statement like that without thinking of the wonderfully over-the-top 'think pink' sequence from Funny Face (1957 musical starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire).
Kay Thompson is the domineering fashion editor confident in her power to influence what women wear. But it's really an excuse for an explosion of cinematic pink. Now didn't that just brighten up your January day?
So you can imagine how pleased I was when no fewer than TWO wonderful pink things arrived in the post. First of all this glorious spool of vintage rik-rak from Stacy Leigh's Atelier. I love rik-rak, I love vintage and I love pink, so I'm going to have fun with this!
Stacy took it off the lovely old spool to make shipping to the UK affordable. I love how she then tied it with a length of GIANT hot-pink rik-rak!
I was also very excited to receive my pack of isavirtue stationery (who also has a blog). I absolutely love Kaitlyn's designs, especially this series of flapper girls (this one is named Ramona) typing or telephoning. I also love the pretty stamps and hummingbird drawing on the envelope enclosing it. 
Snail mail is very important to me. Although I love the immediacy of email, Facebook and Twitter, there is nothing quite like holding something you know someone else has held: a point of material contact. I can't wait to surprise a friend with a bright pink missive! My only regret is that I don't have a typewriter so I can't pretend I'm Ramona while I'm writing it!

crafters against SOPA

I was reading up on SOPA and PIPA last night and from what I understand, if these bills are passed, there could be extremely negative consequences for websites such as blogger, Etsy, Flickr and Twitter, with all users effectively being punished for the bad actions of a few.

To find out more and to pick up the code for the button, see the Strumpet's Crumpets blog or just click the button below:

Strumpet's Crumpets Crafters against SOPA

Let's keep the internet creative!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


In this post I shared some of the pretty vintage accessories given to me by a wonderful family friend who is in her 90s. Sadly, she has had to move out of her home and so has been giving away her belongings. When she heard I was learning to sew, she wanted to give me her stash of sewing things: fabric, scraps, unfinished projects.
What an incredible gift and opportunity! I was so touched. I couldn't keep it all so I went through it with my mum at Christmas: some things were so smart we gave them to a friend-of-a-friend who owns a vintage clothes shop and who we think can finish them and sell them - they were not my size and deserved a fancy future.
There are all kinds of fabrics and trims in the stash I kept: from cheap and cheerful to seriously chic; from ultra-patterned to plain and simple. I am so happy to have all these bits and bobs to use in creative ways in my sewing projects.
What struck me is that this lady saved everything, even the smallest scraps, even hems cut off the ends of trousers. I think it has been stressful for her as she has accumulated a lot of stuff, but at the same time it means a lot to me that she has passed on some of her collection. When I use these materials I will think of her and there will be a lot of love going into the things I make.
I have seen a lot of posts lately about the importance of de-cluttering, in the spirit of the new year. I agree that we have to choose wisely what we keep in our living spaces. It is essential not to let things become more important than people. If you've ever seen the show Hoarders (which I occasionally watch with a mixture of fascination and abject horror) it's clear that it's possible for the things/people balance to go terrifyingly awry!
{Eeeek! From the TV show not my home, I hasten to point out!!!}
But at the same time I believe in the importance of preserving and valuing precious things, and investing objects with meaning. This stops things being just throwaway objects of consumption and reminds us of the human labour that went into making them, as well as being material links to special people or moments.
These beautiful scraps of green and gold brocade were wrapped in newspaper dated 1946: a little reminder of the past - and some seriously hard times in post-war Europe - a past that my friend actually lived through as an adult. For me, these are tactile traces of the past.

Whenever I write about projects that have incorporated these treasures, I will link back to this post as a reminder of the history and special friendship embedded in the materials.

p.s. if you liked today's post you might also be interested in this old post about tasting memories in jam.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

be open, be free

I thought I'd share what I made for Romi, who won a custom collage badge in the giveaway over at Lo's blog Little Somethings. She asked for the large size badge and the phrase, 'be open, be free', and she said she loved nature (as you can tell from her sweet blog). I loved the phrase and the atmosphere this evoked, and found a cute deer in a vintage children's annual.
Although I showed this pretty bracelet already in this post, I thought I'd show it again, as I won it in the same group giveaway and it seems to have something of the same colours and atmosphere: leaf green, the freedom of nature and recycling (it's made from a vintage scarf). I think Lo of Printed Peaks makes really pretty jewellery, with a natural vibe that goes well with Romi's phrase. I'm so delighted to have won it!
Finally here is some lovely bunting by Romi, made from old pages from a children's novel. On her Etsy listing she says: "can you guess what it is? If you can and tell em in order conversations, you'll recieve a surprise gift in with your order! Clues- Published in 2011. Author's last name is Counstable. It's an Australian country book." I haven't worked it out, can you?

Friday, 13 January 2012

so how did it go?

You may remember that I promised an update on my Careful Christmas Project this month. Although Christmas now seems a very long time ago already, I feel it's not too late to revisit the project, particularly as, thinking about the year ahead, I would like to continue the principles of homemade, handmade, re-used, and recycled that underpinned the project.
home-made and vintage gifts
I'm pleased to say that 75% of the 52 gifts I gave met the guidelines I set out for myself (some of them on several counts, such as being both recycled and homemade!) The 25% that didn't included a DVD for my mum that she asked for and I couldn't find second-hand, a few books, 2 presents for my nephew and niece that my husband bought (he saw this as "my thing") and a Camellia plant we gave our childminder. I don't feel too bad about most of these.
handmade gifts
1. FreshyFig zebra necklace
2. Posh Graffiti robin
3. Paper Sparrow pouch
4. Custom name t-shirt
5. Man's cowl by Under Reconstruction
6. Ordinary Mommy pregnant owl
7. Blue Eyed Night Owl bookmark
8. Paper Sparrow desk calendar
9. Montessori baby toys

As far as cards, wrapping paper and decorations go, I didn't buy any new gift wrap or decorations and only used a few new cards (Andrea from Paper Sparrow just happened to have given me some lovely ones!) So 99% success on that front!

I'm looking forward to doing even better next year, with more preparation and taking this year's experience into account.

I'm also looking forward to trying to incorporate more of this carefulness into my year-round living.

So how did you guys get on?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


When I was little, my mum had these special playing cards that told fortunes. Time and again, I got the same card: 4 of Spades, I think it was, aka 'petty annoyances'.

Not the biggies, like Ace of Spades (death), just those everyday irritations that are part of life.

If my mum were to tell my fortune right now, you can be sure that card would turn up: stress and pressure at work, poorly toddler, bad night's sleep, having to cancel my mum's visit this weekend (sniff!) Sometimes life's trivial obstacles sure can get you down.

The thing is, I can be a bit of a stressy person, a worrier. There's a good deal of truth in the notion that it's not what life throws at you but how you handle it.

My traditional way is: eat a lot of chocolate, drink a lot of tea, get snappy with everyone and withdraw into my self-pity in melodramatic, martyr-like style. Not very pretty! It hurts my pride a little to write it out for all to see!
When my friend Ashlie mentioned the FlyTribe WordHop 2012, I initially wanted to pick "complete" i.e. finish all my projects! (You should check out her amazing choice of word, perseverance!) But I've since realised that the last thing I need at this moment in my life is to add pressure and set myself up for the failure of incompleteness. Instead I want to think about changing the way I react to and deal with situations. I'm hoping that ultimately this will help me achieve my goals, but more importantly it will help me stay calm and juggle all the different aspects of my life. So my word for 2012 is going to be:
It is interesting looking up the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. Serene is not just calm, it is also brightness, an illumination. In Shelley's poem Prince Athanase (1822) he writes  "Through which his soul, like Vespers' serene beam‥Shone, softly burning." As well as an adjective, it can also be a noun referring to the vast, unruffled sky. 

Within the calm stillness of the word is a light that shines. I hope that in seeking to be serene, creative strength will shine through in everything I do: as a mother, a partner, a friend, a creative, a person.

you may also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...