Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Easter Mantels and Rabbit Garlands

Thank you so much for your lovely comments on my photography post! It did take a while to put together but I enjoyed writing it so much. Part two is almost ready and I hope to post it soon.

Anyway, Easter. I didn't intend to post today but I spent such a time faffing around with Easter decorations this afternoon, and made such a cute garland that took about two minutes (no, really!) that I knew that I wanted to share it with you lot because you would all totally get why a rabbit garland over my mantel made me so very happy. I realised with mild panic today that I was not at all Easter Ready, not one bit, and so I dug out the boxes of decorations from under the bed and got to work. Don't you think that opening boxes of decorations is one of the nicest things to do in the world? Christmas or Easter, it's so fun to see what is hiding amongst the tissue paper. I mean, I packed that box, so in theory I know what it contains, but there is still a pleasant feeling of surprise and recognition when I pick up and look at each item.

Like, oh hello Easter Egg garland, I forgot how much I like you!

I made this garland three or four years ago by cutting acrylic crafting felt into egg shapes (I used a cookie cutter), then I drew on a pattern with fading ink pen and stitched over the design with embroidery thread. I then attached both halves together with blanket stitch and stuffed them and threaded them onto a length of ribbon. This did not take two minutes, this took about two weeks. But I think I appreciate this garland all the more because it's only on display for a fortnight each year.

My Danish egg cup family are filled with wooden eggs, borrowed from the Bella's shop. The eggs are a bit small, giving them a funny cone-head look.

We never have an Easter tree as such, but I do keep some pussy willow in a vase in the living room and I like to decorate this each spring. 

The leaves are from a pattern in an old edition of Mollie Makes and you can read about when and how I made them here, if you wish. Again, I like them all the more because they only come out annually.

But the decoration which made me most happy today was my little rabbit garland. I just love the white against the grey with the repeating pattern and the shadows it makes. Mostly I love it's simplicity.

I bought this big box of foam stickers in Hobbycraft at the weekend. We've already made cards so heavy with stickers that a first class stamp probably wont be sufficient.

 I simply left the stickers unpeeled - so that they are not sticky - and attached them to a length of string with mini pegs, also from Hobbycraft I think. It was one of those crafting-with-the-kids activities where we all pretend it's done by them but really we know that I am going to re-do it afterwards, making sure the rabbits are evenly spaced.

You could make a really colourful one with the glittery egg stickers, or peg your own fabric or cardboard creations onto string or ribbon. Anything really. And then we can save the garland until next year of just dismantle it, putting the stickers back in the tub and re-using the pegs. I can see this is something I'm going to have a lot of fun with in future!

Edited to add: The little bird boxes are from a pattern here.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Photography Tips For Bloggers: Part One

I love to take photos and think that one of the many wonderful things about blogging is the way it encourages us to use our cameras, to challenge ourselves to create visual records of our lives and interests and, speaking personally, it's become an absolute delight. I didn't expect to love photography as much as I do. Some of you are kind enough to compliment me on the images you see here and mentioned you might like some tips for taking photos, so I have put together twelve points. Some are tips, some are more ideas or suggestions. It turned into the longest post ever so I've halved it - one to six are here below, seven to twelve will follow shortly.

But first, a few things.

  1. This post assumes that you are not a professional photographer and you know that I am not either. It doesn't matter what kind of camera you have, whether it's a point-and-shoot, a DSLR or the one on your phone, it's about me trying to share simple tricks and ideas, not technical information.
  2. There will be no talk of settings, apertures or shutter releases here. I do often use my camera on manual, but I simply don't feel well enough equipped with information to advise you on how to do the same. 
  3. My camera is Canon DSLR EOS 1000D. I bought it on sale three years ago and I don't know if they still make that model, but I do think it's a very good camera indeed. (I treat is terribly, banging it around, covering it in greasy fingerprints, and losing the lens cap constantly. I keep having to mend the memory card flap with superglue.)
  4. I wont be talking about how to photograph people very much. It's always been an enjoyable challenge for me to try and share the ebb and flow of our family life with you without bombarding you with photos of our children. If you do want some inspiration on photographing children, I'd really recommend looking at Jodi's 52 Project, which I'm sure you've seen around a lot, it's hugely popular.
 Ok, now that's out of the way, here are we go.

1. Good light

Nothing matters more than this, particularly if you are trying to take a good "still life" style shot of something you've made, or a ball of yarn, say. Ideally this should be daylight, but do try to avoid direct sunlight which will give you too much contrast and shadow. Under a window may not actually be the best place to take a photo.

This photo below was taken in full sunlight. See how the colours are slightly bleached and there is too much shadow?

Just moving the yarn six inches into the shade made a big difference to the clarity of the image. This shot was taken on automatic so the camera automatically re-adjusted it's settings.

As I've said before, on days that are very sunny, I draw the curtains in our living room, which are quite thin and unlined as you can see. The room is south facing with a large window so it has a lot of natural light, but drawing the curtains helps to give a softer, more diffused light.

If your home does not have good natural light - perhaps it has lots of trees around it - try taking the photos in an upstairs room, if that's possible. Rooms on the first floor or higher will more than likely have better light. This isn't always practical (like if you're baking) but if the thing you want to photograph is small and portable, take yourself and your camera higher.

For inspiration, have a look at Yvonne's blog Yvestown to see some beautifully light interiors photography.


2. Get to know your home

Work out where in your house is a good spot for a photo. I've mentioned before my square foot of kitchen worktop under the window, somewhere convenient and reasonably well lit.

I often use my mantel for photos; it has a sturdy ledge, a plain background and good light.

My new favourite place is the desk in the office, as the white background and good light make it very useful indeed.

Work out where those areas in your home are - they will vary depending on the time of day - and use them to their best advantage. 

Laura at Circle of Pine Trees often uses her kitchen table, with it's textured background, convenient location and good light, to photograph beautifully arranged images and her monthly On The Table series of vignettes is a really lovely idea.


3. Background

I've already mentioned my love of a white tea towel, old sheet or mantelpiece for a good, neutral backdrop. Plain is my preference and even a sheet of A4 white printer paper works well. But sometimes you need to play around with the background colours, like below. I wanted to photograph this yarn and thought the turquoise-blue might work well against the brown, but my camera just couldn't pick up the colour accurately. 

So I tried moving the yarn on top of a book covered in a pattern with similar colours and it totally changed the photo. Same light, same camera, different background. And this colour below is the true colour. So if you're having trouble capturing the colour of a ball of yarn or piece of fabric, try a different background.

Jen at Little Birdie has a great skill for using backgrounds to control and highlight certain things in her images. Sometimes it's something as plain as a white wall, other times the backdrop is dramatic or busy, like a rug, piece of wrapping paper or a deep blue wall. Have a look at her gorgeous home here.


4. Composition

I have to confess that I don't think a great deal about composition when I am out and about snapping away, I tend to trust my eye and think about the feeling of what I am trying to capture rather than how technically correct an image it is. What I am talking about here is closely controlled composition, like when you want to show a collection of things, to group them in a way that is pleasing to the eye. If I want to show a list of ingredients, or a selection of different items, and I have ten minutes to faff around, then this way is both fun to put together and very effective.

Visit Caroline's blog, Scraps Of Us, for some beautiful examples of creative and colourful composition. In fact, just visit it for some downright talented photography full stop.


5. Staging and Styling

For ages I thought that staging a photo was dishonest and misleading, or somehow inauthentic. Don't worry, I've changed my mind. Every blogger who made the decision to photograph a cake on a pretty plate rather than a chipped, ugly one - well, that's styling. So style away and have fun. For this photo, yes, I ate that toast and, yes, I drank that tea but I also put it on a pretty tea towel and left the jar of marmalade open just so, just for fun. It's fine to want to create a lovely image and use it on your blog. 

The same goes with this sandwich. Unstyled:


Visit Kate's blog Kate's Creative Space for some wonderful examples of styling, especially for seasonal displays and really imaginative ideas for table settings.


6. Be Playful

Experiment with unusual angles, zoom and focus. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it's huge fun and when it's successful it's very rewarding.

I took this photo below by focusing in on the surface of the wood...

...and this one by focusing on the beach huts in the distance through one of the holes in the wood, still standing in exactly the same position.

With this photo of Bella, below, I crouched right down on the sand so that she looks as though she is jumping much higher than she really is.

Nina at Tabiboo is a very talented photographer and I especially love the way she plays with focus and light in her images in a way that is imaginative and highlights the beauty of her local area.


Ok, that's all for now! I hope you have found some of this useful. I have been busy snapping away all this week as the chuildren and I have been staying at my parent's on the south coast. We've been blessed with the most beautiful weather and have been outside almost all the time. We're back in Leeds soon, when I will have a big catch up with all your blogs.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Big Skies

As soon as I parked the car the first thing I saw was the sea, shimmering in the distance between the sand dunes and beach huts in the foreground. I just sat in the car smiling for a few minutes. Some places give you that kind of feeling, that emotional connection, like you've come home. The weather was all bright sun, blue sky and gentle breezes, with enough warmth in the air to make sitting outside enjoyable rather than bearable. We walked down to the water's edge and I let the waves wash over my wellies, watched the light dance on the surf and pebbles. The children paddled, jumped, threw stones and collected shells. I wish I could bottle that smell, that damp, marine, gently salty smell of sea spray, the scent that says The Sea to me like nothing else. I stood and listened; I could hear water and waves, the crunch of people walking on shingle, seagulls, children shrieking, the wind, the occasional dog barking, sometimes shouts and music from the fairground further up the beach. We bought take-away coffees and lemon cake from the kiosk and sat outside the beach hut on deckchairs. The kids played football, bat and ball, and attempted sandcastles in the slippery, too-dry sand. I savoured every moment.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A Very Long, Very Chunky Cowl

I wasn't supposed to be making a cowl right now, especially a heavy, woolen one at that. But a few weeks ago I met a friend at the wool shop and found myself inexplicably drawn to the chunky wool section, stroking and squeezing different balls, inspecting labels, holding them up to the light. Before I knew it I'd bought two balls of yellow yarn and a 10 mm hook and that was it, I was off. No plan, not pattern, just an urge to crochet something chunky. This naughty project rudely jumped right to the start of the WIP queue, pushing other, more seasonal plans aside, and demanding my full attention before the weather grew to warm to wear it.

I wasn't sure if it was going to be a scarf or a cowl. I just knew that I wanted it long and loopy, so I could wear it loose or wrapped around twice. The cowl won, and I've modeled it awkwardly for you below. I think it's really hard to visualise how knitted or crocheted garments look if you can't actually see them being worn; it's all well and good to see it arranged on a table, but it doesn't really give you an idea of scale or how it looks on a person.

Turns out two balls wasn't enough and I had to go back for a third. Before I joined the ends together it was 6 foot or 180 cm long. I crocheted them together using slip stitches which looks like this on the "right" side:

And this on the "wrong" side.

The fabric feels stiff and structured to begin with but very quickly softens. I used Rowan Big Wool, which I've used a few times in the past. It's not the cheapest brand, and you could save money by buying a wool/acrylic mix yarn, but I like it. It's incredibly warm and solid-feeling.

Should you want to make one, here are the details:

You will need around two and a half balls or 250 grams of very chunky yarn and a 10 mm hook. If you are shorter than me (I am 5' 11")and don't want it quite as long, two balls might suffice.

Make a foundation chain of 14 stitches (12 plus 2 chain which will be the "13th" stitch) then just crochet back and forwards in rows of 13 half trebles until you reach the desired length or run out of wool. Crochet or sew your ends together, whatever your preference is, and darn in your ends. You shouldn't need to block this, the weight of the yarn does wonders to keep it straight as you work.

But you might want to do the sensible thing and make it in autumn.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

A Box Room

So called because it's big enough to hold a box or two, and a bed at a push. Some people might call it a walk in wardrobe or suggest it would make a good size en-suite, but it was our third bedroom. When we first moved into this house, it was the room where the still-to-be-unpacked boxes were stored. When they were unpacked it held clothes airers and drying washing. Then it was a nursery for Bella, then for Angus, then Angus's bedroom. Now it's an office, of sorts. 

It's also very small, bright and incredibly difficult to photograph, as wherever you stand you are confronted by a window. We've painted it white, for now, which seemed easier than making any kind of decision about colour, and furnished it with a mismatch of items from all over the house. The desk we bought years ago and has been stored in the garage until now, but we did buy a new desk chair. John chose it. I wanted to find and paint an old wooden chair and put a cushion on it but John wouldn't let me. It won't be comfortable to sit at for hours, he said. His choice of chair is comfortable, I'll give him that.

There is a also small bookcase and our Poang chair for lounging. That's really nice spot to linger, I have to admit. 

After not having any kind of office space for so long, I am positively giddy at the thought of having the laptop, filing cabinet, printer and shredder in the same room rather than scattered all over the house. I'm a whizz at admin and paperwork right now, let me tell you. MOT? Booked. Tax disc? Renewed. Bills? Paid. Paid AND FILED!!

It's actually a lovely room in which to sit. Cosy, quiet and warmed by the sun, various members of the household escape up here to read, work, colour and play. When it's too bright, the pink curtains are drawn and give the room a rosy glow. I've been surprised by how much the children enjoy using it, particularly the desk. Since they share a bedroom, it's nice for them to have some space to spill over into. I thought I'd move my sewing machine and fabric up here, but I haven't yet. The thing is, it's a shared family space not my office and so, for now, I find it easier to have my things downstairs where I spend most of my time, where I can get on with being creative amongst and around the hustle and bustle of family life.

But, if I'm honest, you know what the best thing about this room is? That white desk and the good light make it an excellent spot for photographing things. I didn't plan it that way, honest! Remember my leaf skeletons? Photographed here, along with a lot of other things lately.

And speaking of photography, I am still working on a post all about photography tips. It's taking a while to put together (it's long!) but I hope to publish it next week sometime.