Saturday, 30 August 2014

Friday Happies, on a Saturday

Thank you for your really, really nice comments about my embroidery. I appreciate your kind words a lot.

A day late, here is my usual weekly celebration of the small, everyday happy things that occurred over this week:

1. A wander into town this morning for nothing in particular; a newspaper, bread, flowers, plums from the greengrocer. Those purchases that are really small but very satisfying, for they contain the ingredients for a relaxed weekend.

2. Victoria plums. They will be tomorrow's crumble.

3. Cyclamens, inside and out. Everything in our garden appears to be dead, apart from the weeds. Our garden's been a bit of a disappointment this year, to be honest. I could never seem to sum up the necessary energy at the right time. Re-potting the pots by the front door always cheers me and makes me feel better about the mess in the back garden.

And I like a bit of cheer inside the house, too. 

4. Small boys on scooters and big parks. We had a relaxed day on Wednesday at Roundhay Park, always a favourite. After a walk around the lake we sat outside the cafe and drank hot chocolate. 

I thought this meadow area they'd planted was beautiful. Do you think if I just threw a load of seeds all over my garden something similar could be achieved?

Today we have done very little. Bella had a birthday party to attend. Angus and I baked a chocolate cake, his choice. John is cooking chilli for dinner later. I might have a beer soon.

We are gearing up for the return to school next Tuesday. Uniform and school shoes have been bought, labels need attaching. I feel quite mentally and physically tired, actually. The house is a complete tip, only the most essential of housework is being achieved as I can hardly move for the toys. Every. Single. Piece. of playmobil is out. I've just left it all there, occasionally making a path through it as necessary. I'm looking forward to some domestic busyness in an empty house next week, the opportunity to get some jobs done. I love the long summer holiday, but I love it when it comes to an end too. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Colour Collaborative: August: Collection

Collections are interesting things. When is a collection a collection? I have a lot of jugs, but I wouldn't say I collect them, I just like buying and using them. A collector - to my mind - is someone armed with knowledge, always searching for that perfect, elusive item to add to their collection. I don't really collect anything - I thought - but a glance around our home showed me that, yes, actually I do like to collect something: photographs. From the group of Polaroids I have stuck to the wall, to the ten or so framed family photos I have on a shelf in the dining room, these are my collections, our family moments grouped together.

And that's the thing about collections, they can be public or private, or both. For me, there is always a tension between how much of my family - information and photographs - I will show here. I want this space to reflect our lives honestly, but am wary of over-sharing, and I have always aimed to keep photos of our children to a minimum on here. I think many bloggers tread this same fine line, and what feels right for one blogger is not the same for another. And that leads me to another collection of photographs, a public one this time: my Instagram account. I collect, curate and publish my own photographs on there, for all to see. Just snaps on my phone, yes, but no less valuable to me for that. I decide what I want to photograph and how I want people to see it although I have to be honest here and say that it's the social side of Instagram which is the most fun - and the most important - to me.

I recently had some of my Instagram photos printed*. I didn't want to be limited to looking at them on my phone and I think that sometimes I forget how much pleasure there is in a photographic print, in holding a real, actual photo in your hand rather than always looking at it on a screen. I decided to create a new collection of them on our hall wall.

Something I seem to like to photograph is that blogger favourite, the downwards-looking shot of a table. They are bursting with the rich colour of a fresh bunch of flowers, a new ball of yarn or a creative project on the needles or hook. Little still lives, they are amusing to arrange and photograph, and then you get to eat the cake and drink the tea afterwards.

But it turns out that is not what I wanted on our wall. Pretty as these images are, they only reflect me, they don't say anything about our family. What I really wanted to look at was memories of moments, of days out, holidays, carnivals, trips to the beach - occasions that made me smile, and I know exactly where I was and what we were doing when I took every single photo there.

And it's less colourful, this collection, it's more of a quiet spectrum of greys, browns, blues and greens. The ones that leap out to me first are the vivid blue skies. I do like a good blue sky, even more so if there are scudding white clouds or a beach scene thrown in too. My landscapes are full of gentle leaf greens and earth browns, appearing throughout a year of family walks, interspersed with pops of pink blossom and the first camellia in the spring, red strawberries in the summer, orange leaves in the autumn. I've yet to capture a white, snow-filled winter landscape here. The colours are surprisingly hushed, for they are the colours of nature for the most part, toned down by the Instagram filters. But I like how they go together, no one image shouting louder than the others, but just working as a group of small square memory-joggers.


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

And August's guest contributor,  Caroline at Scraps of Us

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.

* I ordered mine from Origrami, and was pleased with the service, although be warned that they come printed on card not photographic paper. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My Embroidered Holiday Diary

My holiday diary, my drawing with stitches, is back from the framers! I have no idea where we'll hang it, but I'm happy just to have it propped on the mantelpiece and enjoy looking at it for now. 

I thought I'd show you how the project started, and then how it took shape over the holiday. It began when, having seen Jennie Maizels' holiday diary on Instagram, I thought I'd like to try one of my own, but I'd draw with thread rather than pens or pencils. It was all very last minute and spontaneous, and I didn't plan it much beyond selecting a piece of good quality white linen and working out that I'd want to draw an image per day, so seven in total. After sketching the text, I drew around a glass seven times to give me areas in which I'd put my pictures, mainly so that it wasn't all wonky.

This is a really terrible photo, I am sorry. I took it on my phone as my big camera must've been packed. 

So, armed with my piece of fabric and bag of embroidery threads, I was ready to start. I never knew what I was going to sew until the end of each day and in the evening I'd choose my image and draw it freehand onto the piece of white fabric with a fading ink pen*. It took shape slowly throughout the week. I've put together some collages below, showing the original inspiration in a photo, then the snap I took during week of the work in progress, and the final image on the right is the finished work.

Day 1: Our holiday home, rented for the week. It had such a symmetrical, pleasing shape, like a child's drawing of what a house should look like. Ok, my version is a little off, but I know what it represents and that's the main thing.

Day 2: Our day in St Ives (and a browse around the Poppy Treffry shop) inspired this fishing boat.

Day 3: A cream tea at Kynance Cove. I was relieved to note afterwards that I had drawn my cream tea the "right" way, ie the Cornish way, with jam first and cream second. In Devon it's the other way round, I believe. The tea didn't come in Cornishware mugs, sadly, but I felt there was room for some of that classic crockery in my picture.

Day 4: Godrevy Lighthouse.  How I loved doing all those little French knots for the grass, rocks and sea. They made me very happy.

Day 5: That really cheeky, tame seagull which stalked our fish and chips on the beach at Marazion. That was the only image I didn't draw free hand - I sketched it onto paper first then traced it. I'm not very good at animals or birds.

Day 6: A sandcastle, to represent our happy times at Gwithian beach. The little Cornish flag on top was an extra detail of mine. It seemed appropriate. The cross stiched flag could be neater, but that is my own fault for doing it in electric light, rather than waiting until the next day. I find I have no problem embroidering in electric light unless it's cross stitch and for that, I need daylight or I make mistakes.

 Day 7: An ice cream, eaten at Penzance on our last day. Honestly, we ate ice creams every day, some from tubs and some from cones. Salted caramel quickly became my favourite flavour but they were all very, very good indeed.

I finished it shortly after we came home. It was so hard to find the time to complete it once we were back to normality, and this was definitely a holiday project. Here it is before and after it saw the iron:

I ironed it very, very gently, so as not to flatten the stitches. You can still see some of the fading pen here. I opted to have it framed without the glass front. This is purely personal preference on my part, but I always think the reflections on the glass get in the way and I like the way you can see and touch the texture of the stitches. Like the satin stitch on the cream tea...

and the French knots around the light house.

I had in the back of my mind throughout this project the memory of these tea towels my Grandma used to collect and bring back from her holidays. They used to say things like "Wild Flowers of Jersey" or "Birds of Great Britain", that sort of thing. Informative and useful. Some would have a recipe for something like a scone on them. Something about my holiday project reminds me of the vintage design of those tea towels.

I'm really happy with how it turned out. No, I'm delighted. Every time I look at it I remember a different day, a different part of our holiday. It's nice, during this cold, wet, abrupt end to summer, to remember sun kissed afternoons on the beach and how deep-down happy the sound of seagulls makes me.


*I used one similar to this. You can also buy pens which fade when ironed, but I don't like ironing too much on the embroidered parts of fabric in case it flattens the stitches.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Friday Happies

Many, many thanks for all your suggestions and recommendations on apps following my last post. Just brilliant, all of them, and I've had a lot of fun exploring them this week. Someone suggested a follow up post on the apps I've been using but I don't want to make this an exclusive, iPad-only thing, and I know that most of us are using our good old laptops, PCs and other tablets, so I'm undecided about that yet. A couple of you nicely pointed out that I'd forgotten to mention one MAJOR source of inspiration and that is, of course, blogs. And it's true. I can only think that the little time I've had to read blogs this summer holiday made me forget that but I mustn't, as I honestly do find blogs to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration and not just for craft, but for cooking, decorating, days out, ideas, all sorts of things really.


Onto my weekly round-up of happy things. 

: : We've enjoyed some really pleasant walks lately, taking in the change in seasons and the slow move into autumn. Although it if it could slow down a bit that would be nice. I like autumn, but not in August. Brrr.

And there's nothing like a big pile of logs to make you feel that Winter Is Coming, but in a comforting homemade-soup-and-knitted-socks kind of way, not in a Game of Thrones kind of way.

: : A glance back over another week of the school holidays reveals lots of opportunities for small happinesses from people of all ages. Day trips, boat trips, trains, museums - we've covered most of the modes of transport this summer holiday, apart from flying. 

A boat trip around Portsmouth Harbour to Gunwharf in the early morning sun last Saturday was memorable. I like boats and being on the water. I also like shopping and lunch out, so it's win-win, frankly.

:: Garlic mushrooms on toast. I just really fancied it and it was lush. 

: : A brand new soap. This is a major weakness of mine. Do you remember those TV adverts for instant coffee from the eighties where they would slowly break the seal on a new jar of coffee, and how satisfying that was? It's that kind of pleasure. Unwrapping a brand, spanking new soap, releasing the gorgeous smell, being the first one to use it before it goes all slimy (or is that just in our house, soaps that seem to swim in their water-filled soap dishes.)

But this was a pleasure to buy (from this lovely shop in York), and I love the name and the packaging - it pleases me greatly when packaging is nice - and best of all it smells delicious. And while I don't like instant coffee much, I do love to break the foil seal on a new jar of, say, hot chocolate or nutella, and peel it off round the edges really carefully. That makes me happy too.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Getting My Craft On

Hello! I hope you are all well. The summer holidays trundle along here and, in between travelling, holidays and staying with family, I have been working on various crafty endeavours. Currently, I have three ongoing creative projects, three WIPs, or Works In Progress. That's not too bad, is it? One crocheted, one embroidered and one appliqued. 

First there is my crocheted blanket. I started this almost a year ago to the day. 

It's a slow burner, this one. I'm learning that it's all about the process, as much as the outcome. I don't see how you can rush a blanket this size. I couldn't anyway, I'd pass out. 

So far, I've done about 70% of the squares I need, and then of course they all need to be joined and a border added. I'd really like to complete this project this winter. It will take extraordinary focus on my part, but I'm going to try!

Then we have my summer embroidery, the last quarter in my seasonal collection. (You can read about my AutumnWinter and Spring embroideries here if you like.) I've sketched the outline of the tree, the hill and some allium heads onto paper and I'll trace these onto the fabric with a fading pen so that they are all roughly in the right place. The rest I will draw freehand onto the white linen when I've decided what I want to include.

And finally my wall hanging. 

Like the embroidery, this should be a quick-ish project, completed within the next month (I hope!). I am currently stitching around each letter, a tedious task but one which needs to be done properly.

So that's my actual, real WIPs.

But there there are the other WIPs, that long list of "one day" projects that lives in my head. Do you have one of those too? A list I think about when I fall asleep. Like the quilt I want to make with all my scraps of fabric. I'm not sure yet if it will be hexies or triangles, but I've begun a Pinterest board for it, so that's practically starting a project, isn't it? And there's that soft, indulgent, cashmerino ripple blanket I'll make one day in greys, pinks and creams, like a Missoni-inspired hug. And the fun, appliqued set of family portraits framed in oval embroidery hoops that I want to make sometime. A modern, slightly daft take on such a Victorian idea, which I found in this great book.

So, I thought I would share some of the most useful online tools for crafting that I have come across. Some are obvious, some new to me. And I'm hoping that you'll join in and share your favourites too.

Word - Yes, everyday Word. A brilliant resource (that most of us have on our laptops or PCs) which I use when I need lettering that is neat, consistent, and in a certain style. For my wall hanging, above, I chose Ariel and typed my phrase into a new document, playing around with size and italics until I was happy. Then I simply traced it from the screen onto a blank sheet of white A4 paper. But, with applique, everything has to be in reverse, so I had to hold the paper up to a window and trace the reverse of each letter - a light box would have made this so much easier - so that it was all the right way round at the end. I suspect there is an app that can reverse text for me. I hope so anyway!

Google Images is brilliant for just simply providing a vast number of images to look at (but not copy - many are protected by copyright) from a variety of sources, and this can be incredibly useful and informative. For my seasonal embroideries I often just want a really good, clear picture of, say, a daffodil or seed head, but I don't want to be overly influenced by any one photo or illustration. I just like to look at twenty different pictures and then build a really solid mental picture in my head, which I then sketch freehand onto either onto paper or the fabric.

Mollie Makes - Even without buying the magazine, there are free patterns and a wealth of ideas and inspiration to be had on their website.

Pinterest - It doesn't really need that much of an introduction since it's so widely used, but it's simply an online noticeboard, a fantastic way to collect and organise ideas and inspiration.

The V&A website has this brilliant pattern maker which lets you upload your own photo and turns it into a colour coded grid, so that you can use it to design your own patchwork quilt, or, by the same reasoning, a cross-stitch pattern or even a Hama bead creation. You can download your own pattern in a PDF file for free. It's brilliant fun. I've uploaded photos of Dala horses and ice creams so far...

PicMonkey - A fantastic online photo editing website. Most of their features are free, although you can upgrade to access a wider range of ediitng functions. 

Now, I've recently been playing with a very exciting new toy, an iPad 5 from Argos, and this has opened up a whole new world of crafty wonderfulness to me. Apps!! I am like a child in a sweet shop, exploring and playing and wanting to look at everything at once. I suspect I have only scratched the surface in the last week, and that there are many, many more out there, but here are some that I've already downloaded, used and like very much:

These are the ones I consider to be the necessities: Pinterest, EtsyEbayFacebookiPlayer4oD and Instagram. You know, the things you need to function in modern life. And then there are the fun ones for playing around: Paint My Place for fun with paint colours and decorating, Simply Crochet's Granny Square A Week app, a fun way to broaden your crochet skill base, and Martha Stewart's Craft Studio. I suspect that whatever your hobby - baking, photography, scrapbooking, knitting, paper craft, sewing - there are many apps to choose from. I know there are many, many more out there. 

And the other fun thing I've discovered - magazine reading! On a screen, and at a fraction of the cost of the paper copy. Mollies Makes, Frankie, The Simple Things, Kinfolk... I'm not sure if this will replace the simple joy of leafing through a real magazine for me, but there is a lot of interesting stuff out there waiting to be discovered.

So, experienced iPad users, please tell me which apps you'd recommend the most highly. For crafting, or cooking, or anything really. I'd love to know which are your favourites. 

This post is in collaboration with Argos.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Friday Happies

Time has been my greatest source of happiness this week. Freedom from clock watching and rushing, the opportunity to pause and be in the moment.

:: Time to indulge in some cloud watching. We've had some dramatic, stormy skies this week, with heavy bursts of rain and lots of bright sun. These conditions make for good clouds. 

:: Time to enjoy a beautiful, leisurely walk in a favourite spot on the South coast with my mum and the children, to watch the clouds and linger behind, taking photos.

:: Time to dawdle over feeding the ducks, to coo over tame ducklings waddling around and enjoy the children's merriment when a slightly too tame swan tried to eat my mum's toe. Things like that are hysterically funny when you're five and seven.

The ducks and swans were keen, which is always gratifying. There is nothing more dispiriting than taking the kids to feed the ducks only to be met by indifferent birds who swim away, bored by bread.

:: Time in the kitchen with Mum, who showed me her new scone recipe. She says she think's it is *whisper* better than Delia's. The scones, covered in bramble jelly and clotted cream were light, still warm from the oven, and utterly delicious.

:: Time to sit down with the kids and help them finish their holiday pictures. They are ready to hang now.

This one below is Angus's. He drew all the pictures onto the fabric with my "magic" pen, and I stitched over them. I like the sun best. All children seem to draw the sun in exactly the same way.

And here is Bella's. She drew the picture herself and, bless her, every single stitch is her own. She can tie off the thread really well now, and proudly told my mum the three stitches she's learnt (satin stitch, back stitch and running stitch).

You can see that Bella's picture was heavily influenced by what she saw me sewing on holiday, and that Angus has basically copied Bella, but I love these hoops all the same. Their holiday memories, captured in thread, are very precious to me indeed.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Late Summer Walk

I thought I detected the slightest shift in the seasons yesterday, while we were out walking. The breeze was cool and the light softer than it was a couple of months ago. The blackberries are early and plentiful this year, and we picked enough to add to strawberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants to make a Summer Pudding. The leaves are losing their vivid depth of green and taking on a slightly faded, tired look, as thought all the colours have been turned down a notch. 

I realised with a bit of a jolt that high summer has slowly become late summer, without me really noticing, and autumn is not that far around the corner.