Monday, 16 December 2013

cloud pompom mobile

When, thanks to Claireabellemakes' Pom Poms for Life pinboard, I came across this Tante Tin cloud pompom mobile, I was instantly smitten and knew I had to create my own. Clouds seem to be a big craft trend at the moment, and I'm totally up for that. And who doesn't love pompoms? So soft, bouncy, colourful and tactile - there's almost nothing that doesn't benefit from a pompom, in my view. So bringing clouds and pompoms together was a stroke of genius (one that I wish I could claim as my own!)

Making homemade gifts for my Careful Christmas is the perfect excuse to try out new ideas (well, obviously it would be wiser to stick with tried and tested but that's just not how I roll!) I made this for a friend's new baby's nursery and it is going to go so perfectly with the white walls with vintage wallpaper decals! I just hope she doesn't read this blog post - I think she's too busy (right?!) I'm risking it because there was no way I could wait any longer to share this, so chuffed am I by how it turned out.

It's made from old vintage sheet fabric and scraps of Sirdar snuggly baby yarn (appropriate, n'est-ce pas?), except the white one which is vintage mohair. I was worried about getting the balance right, but by sewing on the pompoms at the end I could adjust as I went and it hangs beautifully, the cloud turning slowly on it's yarn axis and the pompoms swinging pleasingly out to the side.

If more evidence were needed that simplicity can be beautiful, surely this is it? I'm totally swooning over this thing (and that's not really blowing my own trumpet, since I the idea came from elsewhere). I just hope its tiny recipient and her parents love it as much as I do. Now I might just have to make one for myself!

If you make one of your own pleeeeeease do let me know and share photos, as there are so many possibilities in terms of shape/size/colours/fabric/yarn that I'd just love to see what other people do! Come one, it's so easy, you know you want to....!

Friday, 6 December 2013

our Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree came to us last year in a pot, and has lived in our garden for the last year, moving into a bigger pot in the course of time. "Look how it's grown!" exclaimed our 3 year-old, who could wait no longer than 1st December to put up (or bring in, in our case) and decorate the tree. He is that excited about Christmas. Actually he has not stopped talking about it since last year!

Like many people, part of the delight of having a Christmas tree (and indeed, of Christmas itself!) is getting out the boxes of decorations and pouring over all the objects with their varied provenance and memories. This year it was especially lovely to find some Ashlie Blake decorations, including the benevolent star, above, that she gave me last year but which didn't arrive until after the tree came down. So this is their first Christmas and I'm thrilled to have little pieces of Ashlie on our tree!

Somehow, when ornaments are hung on the tree, they bring with them an aura of the person they came from. This funny little Father Christmas was made by my mother long before I was born (she thinks 1972-5). For me that's the best kind of heirloom. And the 3 year-old adores our sweet homemade, bendy-legged Santa!

This year for the first time I made ornaments from dried orange slices. They were simple to make and I love the smell of oranges baking and drying in the oven. I think this may well become a new tradition. (Find out more about the golden owl here).

Also set to become a tradition, I think, is this mad Santa train, a gift this year from my French mother-in-law, who I think is quite as crazy about Christmas as her grandson! Of course since we also have a crawling 8 month-old who is highly motivated to get everything and anything in his mouth, the train is a bit of a pain really. But as far as over-the-top Christmas decorating goes, I actually rather like it, probably because I've seen trains round trees in so many children's books over the years, so it feels almost familiar.

Our tree always has lots of homemade things on it (in the train photo above you can even see some collage baubles my son made last year) and I like to add something new each year. This year, I enjoyed making this patchwork ornament, from a free craft kit that came with Love Patchwork and Quilting magazine. I haven't often used craft kits, but this one was lovely and I'll enjoy getting this out for future trees.

Our tree doesn't have a "theme" and we don't even own chic white fairy lights. Instead we have three sets of garish coloured ones. This year's date from my student years - they used to hang over my bed all year round. My little boy did most of the decorating, though I will admit to moving some ornaments if there were too many bunched together and also he had a tendency to put everything at the bottom of the tree! We didn't use any of our breakable glass baubles this year because of the crawler - pretty much everything is safe to grab and drool over, though I have mostly managed to prevent this happening so far.

For me, the tree should be cheery: part of the point of Christmas for us is that pagan thing of having something bright and cheerful in the cold Winter months. It's also about family and memories. I was asking my mum about the homemade Father Christmas and she reminded me that one year she made a snow scene with heaps of cotton wool and all the Santas (for there were many of them) on skis and sledges having fun and falling over in the snow. She thought I might have forgotten it, but the memory is perfecly vivid, just as the best Christmas memories always are.
[You might also like this post: Tree Stories].

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

sewing cosy gifts

As part of the Careful Christmas project, I've been making some cosy Winter warming gifts for family members (who aren't into reading blogs, so I'm safe to share these!) There's something particularly enjoyable about making gifts that both evoke and give warmth and comfort at this time of year.

This super soft hot water bottle cover was repurposed from a worn-out cashmere jumper (sweater). I basically followed this tutorial by Tiny Happy, but added a lining for extra snugness and heat-diffusion.

Adding the lining meant it was tricky to keep the lovely touch of using the jumper's natural ribbing - but since I was using another knit garment for lining fabric, I used the ribbing of that too and just a small row of stitching to keep the layers together. Stitching knitted fabrics is hard! But then they are also kind of forgiving too, because they are stretchy.

I also used an old jumper (sweater) to make this very snuggly but simple rice handwarmer for my uncle, which I topped with some vintage fabric. This is a great gift idea for a guy, I think, especially if they're often outdoors in the cold like my uncle is. It also works as a heat pack for achy muscles.

I'm really pleased with my first attempt at a cafetière cosy. (Do you like our Silver Jubliee i.e. 1977 mug btw?!) This was a gift requested by my Aunt this year. I looked at lots of tutorials on Pinterest and was most inspired by this Bugs and Fishes one, but made mine in a completely different way! For one thing, I quilted it quite traditionally on the diagonal as I thought my Aunt would like that. I also used special heat resistant wadding.

The real challenge was that all cafetières differ in size, so for me that ruled out button or snap fastenings. I think velcro works pretty well and allows quite a bit of leway. Our cafetière is fatter than my mother's, for example, but the cosy still fits...

I've found Pinterest quite brilliant for handmade Christmas inspiration and have been pinning and browsing to my heart's content for the last few weeks. Feel free to check out my Careful Christmas pinboard for some ideas! What cosy things have you been making for Christmas?

Sunday, 1 December 2013

handmade 365 reflections

As I mentioned in this post, I am taking part in Rachelle's Handmade 365 Project, which involves wearing something handmade everyday for 365 days. Today, 1st December, is day 60 and I am proud to say that I haven't yet missed a day! It's been an interesting process and I thought I'd pause to reflect on what I've learnt from it so far (and also to share a photo, above, of my first ever self-made skirt, made from vintage fabric! Also featuring Blue Eyed Night Owl pin and handmade charm necklace from Toronto.)

homemade infinity scarf from vintage fabric and seahorse earrings by Tatty Devine

1. It's encouraged me to make things for myself - so often I make things for other people and it's been fun to make things for myself, motivated by the search for new handmade things to wear each day!

2. But I can't wear new things all the time - As time goes on, I repeat myself a lot. And so I don't share my photos daily anymore on Instagram (@theowlclub), just when I'm wearing something new, or if I feel in the mood or when I feel it will be an interesting photo.

3. One of the best things is being inspired by others - Even if I'm wearing the same old infinity scarf and pair of earrings, I love being inspired by what others are making and wearing! I've been making quite a few fabric cuffs, inspired by a photo I saw from @fairyandsnail. One of them ended up being featured in a Show and Tell by the weekly digital craft magazine Gathered by Mollie Makes!

4. It's made me think really carefully about what I buy - I'm always looking out for businesses, like Tatty Devine (of the seahorse earrings featured above), whose ethos is "handmade in the UK", or for handmade vintage items (which have always been a favourite of mine anyway). Of course Etsy is a great place to go for unique handmade things to wear.

5. It's also made me wonder what "handmade" means - If I pick up a shirt that says "Made in India" (or Thailand or Bulgaria or...) in Topshop, does that mean it's not handmade? Well no, because very likely someone's hands did make it and I don't want to ignore or disrespect that. BUT it was made by somone in a factory, probably paid the absolute legal minimum (hopefully not less, but possibly) and of course it will be one of thousands of others like it. When hands are being exploited to make generic items, clearly this is not the "handmade" ethos driving the project. On a completely different note, some participants have wondered whether customisation of pre-existing items counts - the response from the group seemed to be "yes"! So it seems to be as much about creativity and an ethical approach to clothing and accessories as it is about, say, the skill of sewing.

6. It's made me want to improve my skills - I long to make clothing now! It's tricky at the moment because, having recently had a baby, and still breastfeeding, I'm not quite sure what size or shape I'm going to settle into yet. But I can really see the potential and I'm so inspired by what others are making. I've seen everything - coats, skirts, leggings, vests, .... even knickers (Mezz, I'm looking at you!) As soon as my Christmas crafting rush is over, I'm determined to up the ante on the garment making front.

If anyone reading this is also taking part, I'd love to hear your thoughts and how it's going for you!

Friday, 29 November 2013

black Friday fun

vintage picturebook badges
Zero points for originality here guys: I decided to jump on the bandwagon and join in the 'black Friday' fun. Don't know what that is? I didn't until last year. Apparently this is the day when the highest number of online purchases are made each year in time for Christmas, so there are lots of sales on to draw in customers. Commercial Black Friday makes me feel a little queasy at the rampant consumerism of our world, until... I think about all those small, ethical businesses and handmade shops that are boosting their sales. Yes, Black Friday can be fun! Maybe this year we can all think carefully about where we're shopping and why?

owl brooches
Anyway I'm having a little sale myself, so from today - Friday 29th November - until Friday 7th December you can take 15% off everything in my Etsy shop with the coupon code BLACKFRI13. Have a look around and you just might find an unusual little Christmas gift or stocking filler. Now is the time if you want to order in time for Christmas: last non-EU orders must be made before 8th December, EU 10th December and UK 18th December if you want them to arrive in time. I'm working on a commission at the moment, but after that I won't be taking any more custom collage orders, as there is so much going on making things for a careful Christmas!

vintage magazine slogan badges
Coupon code for 15% off in The Owl Club shop = BLACKFRI13
Lasts until end of Friday 7th December

Thursday, 21 November 2013

my fiction project

You may remember I previously took part in the Sketchbook Project and the Memoir Project. My next undertaking was the Fiction Project, with an almost all-encompassing theme of 'tell the world a story'.

Inspired by some old photographs of unnamed people I came across among my grandmother's things, I decided to gather photographs from old newspapers and magazines, plus a few from my collection and imagine a story for each one.

I ended up writing quite close to the deadline and things progressed quickly because they had to. It was exciting to feel the stories pouring out, and to inhabit all these different worlds.

I imagined myself into the skin of someone looking at the photograph who was either pictured or close to someone pictured. Gazing at the image I found myself becoming that person. Sometimes I drew on information in the newspaper article or on the back of the photo. One image of a little girl had '19 months' written on the reverse, for example. The old magazines had dates and captions to incorporate into the stories.

It was a stimulating writing exercise and I was surprised sometimes by what unfolded. I called it 'All the Lonely People' after the refrain from the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby. It will be digitised once it arrives in the Brooklyn Art Library, where the original will be kept. I hope you'll consider having a browse and let me know what you think.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

giveaway winner!

I'm delighted to announce that the winnder of my happy handmade giveaway is Laura from Blue Eyed Night Owl. Congrats Laura! Thanks so much to everyone who entered and spread the word. I'm glad Rafflecopter had to choose the winner automatically for me, because all the entrants were just such lovely people and bloggers! By the way, the winner Laura's blog is a great place to stop by... for instance her latest post features this ridiculously appealing cardi from Knitted Dove for Modcloth...

Sigh... so pretty! Laura makes and sells beautiful felt accessories (stop by her Etsy shop for your Careful Christmas gifts) and is a huge supporter of all things handmade, so definitely worth following if you're not already.
Anyway, I loved doing this giveaway - must do them more often! I'll try to do another one before Christmas, okay?!

Friday, 8 November 2013

vintage fabric

You might have noticed that I've got a bit of a thing for vintage fabric. I think this has it's roots in my fascination with my mum's fabric stash.

Being a bit of a hoarder (yes, that's where I get it from) my mother accumulated an immense treasure trove of fabrics, mostly bargains and oddments, and quite a bit from when she used to trawl the bins outside London fabric shops! These are the fabrics that surrounded me as a child, when she would make clothes or lavender sachets or toys. Before that she used to make shirts for my Dad, really flowery 1960s pointy collar numbers with French seams.

Since my mother doesn't enjoy sewing these days she is passing on her knowledge and materials to me, for which I am incredibly thankful! I love wearing things that have something she's given me included in them. And no matter how disorganised my own stash gets, I always know what has come from her. But I've also expanded my collection - I just can't get enough! The vintage feedsacks shown above came from Texas, where my Dad lives. Occasionally I get lucky in a Charity Shop, but I'm also willing to pay the quite high prices that often come with buying on Etsy, eBay, or Rag Rescue.

vintage cottons from vintagelady7

For me, using vintage fabric - be it new old stock, or used bed linen or whatever - is an particular pleasure, because it is fabric with a bit of history. Each piece reflects something of the time it was made, and I love the idea of giving it new life in the present. More importantly, using new fabric is not (I hate to say this but it's true) very environmentally friendly. Cotton is the most pesticide-heavy crop in the world (source) and foreign demand for cotton contributes to water shortages in cotton-producing countries (source).

1970s owl fabric from FrauSvensson

Now, I don't deny I have quite a bit of new fabric in my cupboards. I do find it hard to resist a bargain, or a fat quarter of something just gorgeously pretty. Also there are some producers making organic and sustainable new fabrics. But when there's so much lovely old fabric floating around it does seem crazy not to try to use (or reuse) it. Last year at a Christmas craft fair, I mentioned to a customer that some badges were made with vintage fabric. "Does that just mean old?" she said, sceptically. I guess this post for people like her who don't get why using "old" materials can actually be really rather lovely, in a whole variety of ways.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

plan a careful Christmas

logo by Ashlie Blake

A couple of years ago I had this idea of moving away from the consumerism of Christmas and planning something a little more careful. I came up with the Careful Christmas project to help me have a handmade, recycled and reused Christmas, rather than over-spending on stuff that taxes the earth's resources and encourages the exploitation of cheap labour. This year, my dear friend Ashlie of PaintingBliss has relaunched the project to encourage everyone to join in.

handmade gift tags by MissChaelaBoo

Here are the original guidelines I gave myself:

  • homemade gifts, e.g. badges, sewn things, preserves, food
  • handmade gifts, e.g. bought on Etsy, craft fair or similar
  • vintage/second-hand gifts
  • gifts that recycle or upcycle things I already own
  • re-use saved wrapping & ribbons
  • or use up new wrapping bought in previous years
  • I have a lot of cards already, any extras must be handmade
  • decorations: same principles as for gifts

Ashlie is crocheting up a storm making the most gorgeous mittens (all I can say is I hope I make her Christmas list!) and I am planning several infinity scarves, some cuffs, and some cafetière cosies (the latter is a request from my Aunt). I am also making a large batch of my Spiced Apple Chutney (get the recipe here!)

And don't forget that I'm running a little handmade giveaway on the blog - you could win some gifts to get your careful Christmas off to a great start (or just keep them for yourself!)

And I also recommend checking out Ashlie's mixed media art, available in her Etsy shop, as you might just find the perfect and completely unique gift there.

What plans will you be making for a careful Christmas this year? If you're making things and use Instagram or Twitter, please tag them #carefulchristmas so we can see all the lovely creativity!

Friday, 1 November 2013

happy handmade giveaway {closed}

So a while ago I mentioned that I've updated my Etsy shop, and that a giveaway would follow... well, it's taken me enough time but here it is finally! You can enter to win everything shown here, made with love by yours truly.

There's a big old lavender heart made with vintage fabric, a button and garden twine...

There's a brooch made from a vintage wooden jigsaw puzzle, varnished and fitted with a brooch back, like the ones in my Etsy shop...

There's a little set of fabric pinback badges, made with vintage fabric...

And also one of my upbeat little collage badges, made from vintage magazines and one of a kind...

...And finally an owl brooch, in a larger size than the ones available in my Etsy shop, and with colours that have more than a hint of a certain festive event that will soon be upon us (haha!)

I like to think that these things would make a cheering November parcel, full of handmade and vintage goodness, and I'll be delighted to send them to whoever Rafflecopter picks out of the entries! Rafflecopter do a neat little widget that will guide you through entering and offer you lots of extra ways to gain entries too. The giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere, and will close next Saturday 9th November at 12 noon GMT. Spread the word, and good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

make a ghostie tree

It's not too late to make Halloween decorations! With or without help from the kids, this cute ghostie tree is an easy little craft project to get you in the Halloween spirit (haha).

Here's everything you need, except a needle and some card for a template (but ghosties are easy to draw - you could cut them freehand!) To make each one just cut two pieces of white felt, glue on some black eyes (I like them slightly different shapes) and stitch round the edge with white thread using blanket stitch, popping in some toy stuffing towards the end. To make them hang, I just threaded through some black embroidery thread and tied a knot.

My three year-old helped by drawing round the templates (a skill he learnt at nursery that he was proud to show me) and glueing on the eyes. Older kids could easily do the whole thing. Of course my little one was also given the special mission of finding the perfect branch on a trip to the park.

To save even more time, use only one layer of felt (no need for sewing) or use cardstock instead. I do like the ghosties to be a bit fat and fuzzy, however! We're having a mini Halloween party tomorrow night for the kiddos and will be swapping our eco-bulbs for blacklights, meaning the little ghouls should glow in the dark - even more fun. What Halloween things have you been making this year?

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