Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Wish List

John and I used to have a favourite conversation which went something along the lines of "What shall we do with the money when we win the lottery?" I'm sure you've had similar conversations yourself. We don't actually buy lottery tickets, we never have, but we enjoy those conversations. They entertain us. (I would buy a flint farm house in West Sussex with an AGA and a walled garden, then open up a shop in a pretty town selling books, homewares, cake, yarn, all sorts of lovely things. It wouldn't matter if it made no profit as I'd have all that lottery money.)

Now we have a different conversation. It goes: "What shall we buy when John has a job?" The answers vary depending on which one of us you ask. John wishes for an Xbox One and a new TV, even though our current TV seems to be perfectly fine and quite big enough as far as I can tell. (We have a battle in this house where John is constantly campaigning for a larger TV and me a smaller one.) Anyway, my wish list is more practical these days. I'd like a new tumble dryer. I don't care what make so long as it dries our clothes. Actually, some new clothes would be nice. I've been coveting that chevron jumper (6) for some time and I desperately need to buy some essentials like underwear, vests and t-shirts. We need new bedding. Our five year old white duvet covers from The White Company have actual holes in them and we could really do with replacing them. I'd like a change from plain white and this bright and happy Rhododendron patterned set by Orla Kiely would be just perfect. (1).

We would like to book a holiday for next year - nowhere fancy, just a week somewhere in the UK - and would love a Sonos sound system (3). But the thing we constantly talk about at the moment is an armchair for the living room. We have a lovely sofa, it's very comfortable and roomy enough for the four of us, but it's not very sociable for when people come over and you want to chat. We currently have two armchairs in the room, both of which were budget purchases bought some years ago because we just really needed a chair but didn't have any money, and neither of which are at all comfortable. Useful, yes, comfortable no; they don't say snuggle up in me with your crochet and linger. Which is shame as they are right by the radiator and the window which makes a good spot for lingering and crocheting. It's cold. I want a chair that is wide enough so that I can tuck my feet up under me and take a few cushions too, and a blanket for good measure. I want to be cosy. But it must look nice. I am in genuinely in love with this Habitat armchair (5). I kind of forgot about Habitat for a while when the Leeds branch closed but now our local Homebase stocks their products they are back on my radar. They have arm chairs, reclining chairs should you wish to recline, cuddle chairs (best name ever!)  swivel chairs should you wish to swivel (the kids would never be off that...) And since it's a wish list, I'll add in some fripperies: I can't honestly say that we need more cushions but if we did I rather like this one by Donna Wilson (4) and this dala horse print (2) would look very jolly and cheerful on the walls this winter.

I am thankful that we have enough money to eat, heat our house and buy essentials, but sometimes I just really want a bit of retail therapy, you know? Some pretty things. Go ahead, judge me. Tell me, do you have a wish list? What's on it?

This post is in collaboration with Homebase. But we really do need a new chair and this really is my wishlist.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Colour Collaborative: November - Fading

Back in early September, in the very last weeks of summer, I picked a small posy of flowers from the garden and brought them into the house; sweet peas, geraniums, some pinks and lobelia, and one lone sunflower. They sat in their little green vase on the coffee table for about a week, the colours lifting my spirits every time I looked at them.

The sweet peas were the first to wilt, then the sunflower. But I couldn't bring myself to throw them out, not just yet. I moved them so that they sat on top of the chest of drawers in the corner of the room and there they stayed.

I knew that this was the last posy of flowers I would pick from the garden this year, and I didn't want to part with them just yet. Also, I was really curious to see how long those geraniums would last! Ages, it would appear.

Four weeks, it took, for the geranium leaves to drop. They clung on to their colour until the very end. Even at their most droopy and withered I think there is something beautiful and confetti-like about their small, papery petals.

Around the same time I clipped and brought inside a rhododendron bloom of the most delicious deep shade of pink. How I love these flowers! We planted a small bush the summer before last but it is proving slow to establish and has only produced a handful of blooms. 

It took a few weeks to dry out and fade.

It reminds me of sepia photographs, suggesting a memory or feeling of colour, rather than showing us the real thing.

I picked another bloom at the same time, which had already started to lost it's colour while still attached to the plant. It is quite silvery-grey now, while the other has retained some pink.

Together with the dried alium head, these two rhododendron blooms have formed my mantle piece display through this autumn, giving me a memory of summer, of the long-ago colours and heat we experienced. 

I'm still not tired of them and think they are spectacular in their white vases against the grey wall.

But on Sunday advent begins and I will be removing these flowers and welcoming in December with colour, lots of colour. I am looking forward to it, but I will be a little sad to say goodbye to these calm, restful autumn colours. Faded, yes, but still beautiful. 

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, including three from November's guest bloggers, just click on the links below ...

          Sandra at Cherry Heart          Annie at Knitsofacto          Nina at Tabiboo 

Alex at Lola Nova          Lori at Lori Times Five          Madelief at Madelief
What is The Colour Collaborative? All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Domestic Bliss

Ok, not quite bliss exactly, more domestic pleasures. This morning I found myself with an empty diary and a few hours at home, but also a very long mental list of housework, errands to be run and jobs to be done. I decided that, rather than resent these tasks, I would make the effort to pause and notice small domestic achievements, to celebrate those small triumphs over dust and dirt. I will never be the sort of person who has an empty ironing basket (and our tumble dryer just broke so there is washing draped all over the house which I hate). Don't ever look in my oven or hope to find anything in the under-stairs cupboard. But sometimes, when you step off the domestic treadmill for just a moment, there is so much pleasure to be found in tackling a dusty corner and turning it into something fresh, pretty and welcoming.

Simple pleasures like clearing away all the clutter from my bedside table; old magazines, last month's book club title, dirty cups...

...and replacing it with a plant and a scented candle. I bought this plant yesterday in the supermarket for £1.50. I can't remember what it's called but, since I have banned myself from buying fresh flowers these last few months, found I was craving the idea of having some fresh, living greenery in the house. Pine cones and feathers weren't going to cut it.

Simple pleasures like changing the sheets and a freshly made up bed.

Like replenishing the fruit bowl and using up the old, wrinkled apples that no-one wants to eat by turning them into Dutch apple cake.

Like using my washcloth, crocheted last night from all the cotton yarn scraps left over from my Christmas gifts, and enjoying using something I made for myself.

Like re-stocking the cake tins with my friend Jennifer's recipe for Magic Cookie Bars. I used the cup method for measuring out ingredients, which was a first for me. They are good.

Small domestic pleasures are there when you look for them. Hiding under the washing, usually. But they are there.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Washi Tape Christmas and Birthday Cards

Yesterday, while writing a shopping list, I made a note of all the birthday cards I needed to buy over the next couple of weeks. There were seven. At a minimum of £2 a card, that soon adds up to what feels like a lot of money to spend on a few cards, and that's before I think about buying any Christmas cards as well. So I cast my eye around the house and found washi tape, a letter set I bought this time last year, and a pile of blank white cards bought in a large multi-pack from Hobbycraft a few years ago. Then I went onto Pinterest and typed in "washi tape cards" and found a huge resource of ideas and inspiration. 

Now, I'm not claiming that any of the designs here are solely my idea; I saw about twenty different Christmas cards decorated with a tree made from strips of washi tape, and have seen hundreds of birthday cards showing cute strings of washi tape mini-bunting. It's impossible to say whose idea that originally was - actually, it's probably more than one person -  but I still wanted to share the idea with you, to show you my take on it and how easy it is to do something similar.

For birthday cards, I made some with strings of bunting. These are fiddly but not difficult. You just need patience. 

I made a few with washi tape-wrapped presents. For these, I cut out small squares of white card (I found plain white card showed off the patterns and colours of the tape the best, especially the paler ones) and wrapped the tape around them, added string or yarn bows, then used PVA glue to attach the presents to the card.

And finally, candles. I can honestly say that for maximum effect for only minutes work, these are the way to go. I love them! Just strips of tape, cut on an angle at one end, with a pencil line "wick" and yellow tape cut into flame shapes at the top. Honestly, if you have only five minutes, you have time to make one of these. I made one for Bella, with seven candles all in a row on a long thin card, for when she turns seven in December.

In fact, the hardest bit here was using the letter stamps set with any skill. It's very difficult to line up the letters accurately and stop the edges of the stamp appearing on the card. I like this wobbly, uneven effect though, and think it adds a bit of charm, but I'm fully expecting someone who doesn't get the joy of hand making things to ask me if one of the kids made it.

And for Christmas cards, I made Christmas trees. So, SO easy and effective and satisfying.

And baubles. As with the presents, I wrapped tape around scraps of white card then cut out my shape and glued them to the card. I added pencil line strings. Can you tell how much fun I had with that Liberty print washi tape here? Liberty print Christmas trees AND baubles!! Oh hello, I am in crafting heaven!

So that was basically my Saturday night. I watched some TV, drank cups of tea and snipped and glued and made pretty things. Sadly, or maybe happily, I consider that quite a good night in.

And this morning, Bella made some. Aren't they great? (The one on the right is a birthday cake - I love how she ran out of room for the letters!) So they are an excellent easy and non-messy crafty activity for adults and children alike. I don't think it gets much better than that.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Lights, Camera...

This week has been cold. Cold and bright. The last leaves are quickly falling from the trees and it's all starting to look and feel wintry out there now.  The light has been ever changing; dull and gloomy, then showery, then fleetingly, piercingly bright, then dark again. When I'm driving it bounces off the wet roads and makes me squint. Our house faces south and from first thing in the morning until late afternoon the hall, living room and the upstairs bedrooms are flooded with light. Now, don't get me wrong, I like this. The amount of natural light our house receives is one of the things I love about it, and makes me feel a little better about our big, ugly UPvc windows that really need replacing. But that sun is low and shines in at such an angle that it shows up every single crumb, hair, feather, fleck of dust and finger print, on every door, window and surface with horrible sharpness and clarity. It makes me wince. 

But it's also quite beautiful and casts the most vivid shadows and reflections on walls and surfaces. I followed the light around the house one morning this week, looking anew at dusty corners of our home, noticing the light, not the dirt.

I received a delightful parcel last weekend from my very good friend Abigail (who I wish would start writing her blog again!). Abigail and I have been friends since we met in our English Literature A level class at sixth form college, in 1994. Good grief, I feel old writing that. She is one of my best friends in the world, a kindred spirit, but the thing is, apart form those years at college, we've hardly ever lived near each other. After doing our A levels we both went off to University at opposite ends of the country, then pursued our own post graduate courses, again at opposite ends of the country, then for the thirteen years I've been in Leeds she's lived in London, West Sussex, Cambridge, Croydon...not the north. We send each other a lot of parcels and cards. We also text, email and phone all the time, but we both cherish old fashioned cards coming through the old fashioned post. Impulsive and generous, she sends excellent parcels. Namely, this Diana F Camera, which arrived unexpectedly last Saturday and made me gasp when I opened it. It's an early Christmas present I think. Thank you Abigail! I am in love with the look of the camera as much as I am the idea of what I can do with it creatively. I'm also a little scared of it, but it comes with a book and some film so I have no excuse now but to have a go and see what this thing can do. Any advice is much appreciated!

I hope you all have a lovely weekend. Ours will be quiet, I think, and cosy, I hope.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Christmas Gifts: Cloth Dolls

Do you ever finish a project and then straight away look for the flaws? I always do. It's a really horrible trait, and not something I do to other people, but when it's my own work I immediately search for the imperfections. The bit that could have been neater, straighter, better. And once I've found it I can see nothing else. 

It gets you no-where, thinking like that. 

If you look closely, you'll see that the left arm on both dolls does not sit as neatly as the right. It should have been tucked in more before I stitched over it. But do you know, I honestly don't care, and I don't think the recipients of these dolls will either. I made them for my nieces, Jennifer and Eleanor, aged five and three. They won't notice and I hope they will like their Christmas presents and just play with these dolls and drag them around everywhere and take them to bed, getting them dirty in the process and they'll end up in the washing machine a few times, as all well-loved toys inevitably do.

No, I am proud of these. I am proud of my careful machine stitching around the hair and hairband, something I wouldn't have been able to do a few months ago. I'm proud of how I made the seams on the leggings and shoes line up so neatly. I love the colours and patterns and their sweet smiling faces and the way they feel when you hold them - soft, but heavy too, as rag dolls should. 

I wanted to make them essentially the same, but different, to avoid competition and squabbles. Sisters eye up what the other has and look for advantages and differences - I should know, I am one of three girls. Both girls are brown-eyed red-heads, and so the dolls are too. 

I used acrylic crafting felt for the hair, hairbands, leggings and shoes. The arms, legs and face are made from some plain off-white cotton fabric I bought in Ikea, and for the bodies I used scraps of Liberty print in Betsy D and Betsy J, a pattern I adore and come back to again and again. I buy small amounts and use it very sparingly. 

The pattern is written by Laura Hunter and is from an old copy of Mollie Makes. (That subscription just keeps paying for itself!) You'll find it in issue 14, and I thought it a really good pattern to work from; clearly written and easy to follow, plus the dolls are not too small which helps avoid horribly fiddly turning-the-legs-the-right-way-out moments. Laid out flat they look like this and measure 43 cm or 17 inches from head to toe. They look a bit like they're in a morgue in this photo, don't they, laid out flat on a white sheet. They just need a tag on their toes.

I finished these dolls last week, but have been waiting for a good day to photograph them. The light seems to be either too gloomy or searingly bright, neither of which is very helpful. Annie wrote recently about the difficultly of taking photographs during the winter months, in particular the lack of daylight, and the challenges it brings. Some things - like food - just don't look so good when photographed in electric light, but I want to continue to share my life and creative endeavours (both the edible and non-edible sort!) here in this space and, for me, that means photos as well as words. So I'll just have to continue to improve my photography skills. I like a challenge.

Thank you for sharing all your Christmas traditions with me. What a great response! It seems the trend in North America is to begin the festive decorating around Thanksgiving, whereas here most of us decorate the tree mid-December.  I think there is something really romantic and traditional about putting up the tree on Christmas Eve, as people used to do, and keeping it there until 12th Night. But my own children would never stand for that, and I know that I want to enjoy the period before Christmas as much as the time after, and so I'll put mine up a couple of weeks before the big day and take it down on New Years Day, which always seems a nice way to mark the end of festivities and the start of a fresh new year.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Autumn Sundays

For me, the perfect autumn Sunday basically involves three key elements: The Archers Omnibus, preferably while I'm pottering (undisturbed) in the kitchen, a walk somewhere (ideally the beach, but I'll take the woods as a close second) and a roast dinner. If I get at least one of those things, I'm pretty happy.

There are other optional extras that are by no means necessary but still good. I like a lazy start to the day. No school, no rush. Those weekend mornings are so precious. A nice breakfast, something we wouldn't have time for on a weekday. Some crafting or sewing is always welcome. Some relaxed playing or DVD watching, when everyone is doing something different but all we're moving around in the same space, chattering away to each other all the while. Cooking, lots of cooking. And eating too. Our weekends do seem to revolve around food an awful lot. In fact one of my favourite things to do on a Friday is plan what we'll cook over the weekend. Then a slow Sunday night; some tv, a bit of blog reading, general tidying and sorting and readying ourselves for the week ahead.

Well today I didn't get to listen to the Archers, but I did get the rest. A slow start, a morning walk in the woods. The first mince pie of the season. A little sewing and then roast chicken and a glass of wine. There was also homework, reading books, spellings, endless amounts of washing up, vaccuming and refereeing sibling squabbles but that's ok, that's life. Tell me, what would be your perfect Sunday?

Also - I have another question for you: when do you put up your Christmas decorations? I've noticed this weekend on Instagram that a lot of folks in Canada and the US are putting Christmas trees up already! That seems very early to me. Is it to do with Thanksgiving? We get out the advent calendar and a few bits and bobs on the first of December, but it's all very low key. The tree and the main part of the festive decorating doesn't happen in our house until at least mid-December. I'm curious, how do you do it in your home?