Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: A Year of Making

As I sit here surrounded by brown boxes and brown packing material, looking at empty walls and bare furniture, I can't tell you how good finishing this post felt. Such pleasure. Look, pretty things! Nice photos! Colour! 

Like last year and the year before, around now I like to look back at the things I've made over these twelve months. It gives me such a sense of achievement and inspires me to make more and, importantly for me, make better. I've just been looking back over the collages from 2012 and 2013 and I'm surprised by how much my taste has changed, in terms of what I choose to make, who I make it for, and the sorts of colours I'm using. Creativity is a fluid and evolving thing and I'm sure 2015's round up will be different again.


January: a fimo bead necklace, a winter inspired crocheted cushion, a scarf for John and some hama bead coasters. February: a scarf for Angus and some more coasters. March: my winter embroidery, a pair of crocheted curtain tie backs and a peg bag. Lots of wool and scarves, definitely a wintry theme here.

April: I discover the joy that is crocheting zigzags in my filofax cover, I get seasonal with a quick Easter garland and an Easter wreath and crochet a chunky cowl. May: some plaited cord necklaces. Wow, May was a slow month! I blame Angus's birthday. June: a another crocheted cushion, this one for a friend, my spring stitches embroidery hoop and a map garland.

July: more crocheted curtain tie backs, for the spare room this time, and some crocheted washcloths for end of term teacher gifts. August: a month of holidays and most of my creativity was directed towards my embroidered holiday diary. It's packed away now and I miss looking at it. Continuing the beachy, holiday theme, I made a garland to add some colour to our boring mantel. September: the love affair with zigzag crochet continues with my chevron cowl, and a quick and easy fimo necklace which I wear absolutely loads. I'm just noticing how similar the colours are in these summer projects.

October: It all gets a bit autumnal now, with a pine cone garland and chevron wall hanging, and it feels funny to be finishing my Summer Stitches embroidery as the nights draw in. November: a beautiful (to make and to wear) shawl for my mother in law and a fun feather garland. December: I continue to be entranced by all things Alpine and mountain-y and make these jam jar tea light holders, plus a scarf for my father in law, and a fox and a doe for Angus and Bella. I am pleased to report that these are played with constantly and much loved.

I wonder what 2015 will bring in terms of making and creativity? I am excited to find out and suspect that decorating will feature heavily.

Happy new year you lovely, lovely lot. Thank you for being here and reading, and I am sorry I've not visited many of your blogs lately - I've either been packing or lying slumped under a pile of wrapping paper. I endeavor to do better next year. I hope 2015 brings you much happiness, creativity and peace. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Christmas Happies

Hello and Merry Christmas! I hope you all had a wonderful few days break as we did. I've missed this space and it feels good to be back. We've lolled on sofas and gone for brisk walks. We've eaten a lot of good food, drunk a fair bit, played board games, unwrapped a lot of presents, laughed a lot, sometimes at the presents. A proper family Christmas. 

This weeks moments of happiness include...

1. Indulging in some Christmas kitsch at the local garden centre. 

 The expression "so bad it's good" comes to mind.

These tiny light up houses would normally send me running to the hills, but I found I was quite drawn to them, peering in to the little windows, examining the idyllic scene. 

I love how it's ok to have really bad taste at Christmas. 

2. Food. Oh, we have eaten so well this week! Too well. Christmas lunch was a roast turkey, plus a goose (just in case 14 pounds of turkey wasn't enough) with all the usual trimmings. Mmm. I love the trimmings. The roast potatoes, stuffing, pigs in blankets, bread sauce, cranberry, so good. My mum and John cooked for thirteen people. I am frequently very thankful that I married a man who can cook.

For the first time we roasted some chestnuts. 

It was a bit of a faff to be honest, scoring the shells, wrestling the nuts out of their hard casings after they were cooked. They smelt and tasted amazing though.

They were cooked with sherry and pancetta and added to the sprouts. My verdict was that sprouts are still sprouts however you pimp them up.

3. It is very rare indeed that I get to see both my sisters on their birthdays (the 23rd and 27th December) and I can't think when that last happened before this week. I offered to make their cakes and had a glimpse of the kind of Decembers my mum must have endured during our childhoods, a marathon of baking and hosting, preparing and clearing up.

4. The most perfect walk on the beach this afternoon. Very cold, very sunny - just the kind of weather I want at this time of year. The sun set as we walked. The kids ran about, chasing the waves, collecting shells. Angus said it was his "best walk" all Christmas because he got to run around in the surf. 

I forgot my big camera so made do with the rubbish camera on my phone, but it doesn't matter, I can go back again and again!

* * * * *

I think I might make this my last weekly "happies" post for now. It feels like a good time to stop - the end of a year, the end of an era. I will however - and possibly somewhat ambitiously - be looking for and celebrating one good thing a day throughout January, that most challenging of months. There is so much to love about winter, and I'll be focusing on the positives that January can bring us. I'll post weekly again, with each weeks moments of goodness. I haven't really ironed it all out just yet, but I was just so excited about it I wanted to tell you.

We go back up to Leeds tomorrow to pack up the house. I've basically been in moving denial for the past week. I need to focus. Wish me luck!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Woodland Creatures

Ah, there's nothing like a last minute Christmas gift panic to really get the festive spirit going, is there? I present to you Mr Fox and Miss Doe, finished in the absolute nick of time before the big day. They don't have names yet, as I want to give Bella and Angus that pleasure when they unwrap them. 

The animals were entirely their own choosing. I bought the patterns from Alicia Paulson's shop, and I would really recommend buying the patterns over the kits as they're such good value and you can use whatever fabric you like. Also, I ordered a kit for a friend for Christmas and was charged £12 import duty. £12!! Outrageous. The only thing I would say is make sure you use really good quality, pure wool felt. I meant to order this but think I actually ended up with acrylic, which looks fine but is nowhere near as strong. It meant I couldn't stuff either toy nearly as much as I wanted to as it just splits. Grrr. I've learnt my lesson.

Anyway, here is Mr Fox. I think he is my favourite.

His scarf is alpaca yarn, nice and soft.

His shirt is made from an old shirt of mine that I cut up long ago. A shirt made from a shirt, I like that. 

And his jeans are an old pair of mine, also relegated to the fabric drawer when they wore out. I had a bit of trouble getting the needle through three layers of the denim on the pockets, but otherwise they're good.

Brown felt lace-up boots complete his dapper outfit. I want to make him a jumper now.

And here is Miss Doe. 

Her headscarf is knitted in the same alpaca yarn as Fox's scarf. I had some, err, difficulties, with this pattern and my mother-in-law helped me enormously with it. 

Her dress is made from a piece of Liberty fabric I've had for ages with a repeating parrot design. I'd have gone for something more floral, but Bella was insistent this was the fabric she wanted for the dress.

I love her boots most. They were such fun to make. I'd quite like some slippers like this I think.

All in all, a very enjoyable project. Machine sewing the tiny clothes was fiddly, although not impossible, but hand sewing the dolls and boots was my favourite part by far. I love making things for my children, I really, really do. 

We are now at my parents' house, temporarily free from boxes and the disruption of a house move, and enjoying time with family. Contracts have now been exchanged (phew!) and the whole process moves slowly forward. I love this time of year; in the next five days we'll celebrate both my sisters' birthdays, my nephews birthday, and of course Christmas Day. I hope you are all enjoying this sweet time in the festive period.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Friday Happies

1. Time. A small respite, an unexpected free day before Christmas. The moving date has been postponed until very early in the New Year which is a huge blessing as it gives us a bit of breathing space, but means the children can still start their new school at the beginning of term in January.

And with that precious time, I baked mince pies. 

Isn't the holly beautiful? Look at all those berries. It was a gift from a gardener friend and is our sole Christmas decoration on the mantel along with some cards. I'm not sure if it's lonely or minimalist.

2. This week we celebrated Bella's eighth birthday. Her party was last Sunday afternoon, and her birthday yesterday. The big day falling on a school day didn't seem to dampen her excitement in the slightest. If anything, it added to it. 

She said that one of her best bits from the party was blowing out her candles. My best bit was watching her blow out her candles. Every day, every year, just gets better and better. I think "This is the perfect age" and then the next age surpasses that. She is interesting, funny, bright and perceptive, full of thoughts and questions.  A joy.

Her cake was one I'd seen here and here recently and stashed it away in my head as an idea for a potential cake that was big on impact and low on effort. I showed it to Bella and she loved it, thank goodness, as I had my heart set on it. I like the way the banner adds height and impact. It's just two paper straws which hold up a length of yarn over which small pieces of washi tape are folded.

I made the cake from three round tiers of plain sponge covered in buttercream icing, with a little animal tea party arranged on the top. We raided the toy box for animals, made them hats from crafting paper and bows from ribbon and yarn scraps, and sat them at a table we borrowed from the Sylvanian Family cafe.

The little cake on the stand is three Love Heart sweets sandwiched together with dabs of buttercream. Bella ate it after the party. Eugh.

3. These beautiful contrails which caught the morning sun earlier in the week were spectacular.

4. It's been a week of farewells as we start to say goodbye to friends in Leeds in readiness for our move. I have a very secure and solid group of women friends here up here in Yorkshire, most of whom I met through the NCT and other baby-related things, and they are good eggs, all of them. I have been given some very thoughtful and generous leaving gifts and feel quite bowled over by it all. I am liable to cry at any moment.  I loved the way all these different people wanted me to take some of the best of Yorkshire down south with me, and they have all independently given me some brilliant things which I thought you'd like to see. 

Isn't this paper lantern wonderful? It shows a view of Whitby Harbour and is by the artist Kate Lycett, who is based in Hebden Bridge. 

This basket of Yorkshire produce made me smile, especially the tin of biscuits from Betty's, a real institution in this county, although John refuses to set foot in there as he says it's overpriced and full of tourists. I love it.

Soap. I do love a new, prettily wrapped bar of soap and the name of this one pleased me no end. 

These coasters show famous Northern landmarks. The top one is Salts Mill, one of my very favourite places to visit locally. I'm saving them for the new house. 

And how fantastic is this Leeds cityscape tea towel? Obviously I wont use it, no, but it will be draped over the oven handle and admired and I'll think about those landmarks and this city, and of course the people who gave it to us.

So, there ends my round up of this weeks happy things; mince pies, birthdays, cake, sun, friendship,'s been a good week.

I always breathe a sigh of relief when the autumn term ends and the Christmas holidays start. These December weeks are always so busy, no matter how hard I try to find some balance. But I'm not complaining, I love it all really. The packing continues. The house is chaos and it doesn't feel much like our home now, which is as it should be as it will be someone else's home soon.  We'll be spending Christmas with my family at my parents' house and we are all looking forward to it hugely, a whole week to forget about packing, just concentrate on being together and celebrating Christmas. Fairytale of New York is playing on the radio right now, my favourite Christmas song. Life is good. Chaotic, but good. 

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Colour Collaborative: December: Spice

This time of year is all about the spice, isn't it? The oranges studded with cloves, the cinnamon sticks and star anise bobbing about in the mulled wine, the little glass jars of powdered ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mixed spice that we add to our Christmas baking.

So much of the pleasure I take in this time of year lies in our rituals and traditions, in the slow festive build up to the big day. Some are inherited, others ones I've started with my own children. Like hanging the wreath on the front door. (The only red out there right now is the sold sign.)

Decorating the tree.

Baking mince pies. I like to make small ones with a star shaped top.

Buying poinsettias.

There are more: flicking through my copy of the Radio Times, watching favourite DVDs, reading Father Christmas to the kids, listening to Christmas music, buying stollen and lebkuchen, attending school nativities and carol concerts. I'm sure you have your own traditions too - and they are probably very similar to mine - but one thing the children and I always do at Christmas, and have done since they were very small, is bake gingerbread.

We eat a few straight away while they are still warm and some might be given away as gifts, but most of them are hung on the Christmas tree as decorations. They're never perfect and that's the point. Some are a little wonky, some a little overdone, but it doesn't matter. It's tradition

Spices of course come in an earthy rainbow of colours - I'm thinking of bright yellow tumeric, fiery red paprika and all the other shades in between. But Christmas spices seem to be brown, both before and after cooking.

And the thing about brown, whether it's gingerbread biscuits, wooden decorations or simply wrapped brown paper parcels, is that is all looks so very good with the traditional red, green and white of Christmas, and provides such a neutral base for some festive sparkle.

What are your Christmas traditions? Do you make gingerbread tree decorations too? Or a gingerbread house maybe? That's on my list for next year. 

* * * 

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River

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.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Friday, I Mean Sunday, Happies

Hello! I meant to post this Friday, then yesterday, and now here I am on Sunday night. Life is relentless at the moment. I feel slightly spaced out tonight, as this afternoon was Bella's birthday party. I decided (wisely) to not try and do everything myself, as I usually do, and so they went bowling and then on to an American diner-style restaurant for tea. You can book this converted yellow school bus for parties, and it's all decked out with red and chrome tables and chairs. It's absolutely fantastic, they loved it. And no work from me, either. I just made the cake.

My moments of happiness this last week have mainly involved finding pockets of calm and peace amid the craziness. 

1. Buying the Christmas edition of The Radio Times. It always gives me a little fizz of festive excitement in my tummy. I know that I'll spend longer reading through it than I will actually watching anything on television, but it's a little ritual of mine. 

2. I finished Mr Fox. He is wonky but still rather fantastic and I'm a little bit in love with him. I know making gifts like these might seem like lunacy given our current situation, but I can honestly say that making this toy for Angus has provided me with a very welcome distraction. I do find hand sewing very relaxing, and the process of following a pattern and losing myself in the stitches has been a huge pleasure this last week. Ok, except for the shirt. That was not relaxing, but damn I was proud of myself when I'd finished it. I'll do a proper post on it soon.

3. New slippers = cosy toes. Lovely.

4. These advent calender tea bags were a gift from my friend Debora. They're German, so I never really know quite what I am drinking, but anything that provides a moment to sit and be still right now is very good indeed. 

We've just ordered an Indian takeaway which will hopefully turn up soon as I'm famished. We're trying to run down the contents of the fridge and cupboards before the move, but think we may have slightly overdone it! Tonight I will watch some television and try to finish Bella's doe for Christmas. Tomorrow we'll see Bella in her school Christmas play and pack, pack, pack. I see rolls parcel tape when I close my eyes in bed at night...