Thursday, 28 January 2016

The Colour Collaborative: January: Warm

This winter has been all about the wood burning stove. We have lit it most evenings over these last months, sometimes in the afternoon at the weekends if it's very cold. I love lighting the stove during the day, it feels both decadent and homely at the same time, and we are all more likely to gather as a family in one room when the fire is lit and it grows dark outside. We have enjoyed the feeling of cosiness it brings on mild, damp nights, and been downright thankful for it's warmth when the temperatures have really dropped, and we have certainly saved a lot of money on our central heating bill. 

But practicalities aside, I just like to look at it, to watch the flames dance white then yellow then orange through the little glass window. I also love to listen to it, to the pop and hiss of the wood burning, and to the gentle ticking sound it makes when it really heats up. Undressed, it's bland and monolithic, all black metal, black hearth, pale grey walls, and with a great slab of wood above it.

But (and you know how I love a good mantel) for me the warmth is not just in the fire in the stove, it's about the hearth and mantel too. That wonderful, stable, ever-present display to show off the colour and variety of the seasons, the things we treasure and value and enjoy looking at.

Yellow kerria japonica, green tete-a-tetes and blue-purple bluebells in the spring; peachy-coral gladioli, purest white lillies and golden sunflowers in the summer; hot pink hydrangeas, palest carnations and fairy lights to warm the wood tones in the autumn; red poinsettia and the sparkle and glitter of Christmas decorations in the winter. Most of the flowers you see above came from our garden, my sister's garden or my parents', and the local market and shops supplied the rest. The prints and pictures change as do the vases and ornaments, and postcards and birthday cards come and go, marking the adventures and special days that fill our family calendar. 

One year ago today we picked up the keys to this house. We didn't move in until March, using that time to work on the house and make it habitable while we stayed with my parents, but I feel an anniversary of sorts has been reached. These photos track almost a year in this house, a year of mantel faffing and gardening and pottering, a year of creating a warm - in every sense of the word - home. 


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
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River
Sarah at Mitenska

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 January 2016


Last year, you may remember me making some rugs, two for Bella and Angus's bedrooms and then one for our bedroom too. Well, all that rug making left me with a pile of three-quarter used balls of t-shirt yarn, and I was keen to use them up. I dislike almost finished balls of yarn, of any brand. They sit there annoying me until I can turn them into something. I like things to be tidy and orderly.

I was really keen to have a go at making a small bowl or basket, just to try my hand at it. I think these things always look really tricky but honestly, they are one of the quickest, easiest things I have ever crocheted.

I began with the Small Rag Yarn Basket from the book Modern Crochet, using the green and pink leftover from Bella's Watermelon Rug, above. 

It made a small pot measuring 12 cm high and 12 cm wide, just perfect for Bella to store bits and bobs on her desk. This girl loves to endlessly arrange and rearrange her desk and the shelves above it. (I have no idea where she gets that from, none.)


Emboldened, I thought I'd try the Medium Rag Yarn Basket from the same book, using the same colour yarn that I used in the rug in our bedroom.

This bowl is 17 cm high and 22 cm wide, so more shallow.

I just adore this - the shape, the curves, the smooth repetition of the stitches, the handles.

My plan for this was clear from the outset: it was to be a Man Bowl for John to put on his dresser. Every day a small pile of stuff builds up here, containing all manner of things; ties, his work ID, cuff links (he's very dapper), that half opened box of ibuprofen that never made it back to the bathroom cabinet, bits of paper with things scribbled on them and receipts which he pulls out of his pockets and just leaves there... I mean, I love all this really, you know I do, I love sharing my life and home with that gorgeous man, but I also love things to be TIDY.

And now it is all tidy. It's still the same clutter, but I've contained it! This whole bowl took about two hours to make from start to finish. I still can't get over how fast that is. 

(It's also quite a lovely receptacle for balls of yarn. I foresee more of these bowls/baskets in my future...)

But, even after all this, there was still leftover yarn. Not a lot now, and looking very scrappy, but it could still be used. I decided to turn these last remnants into a bath mat. I just crocheted them together totally randomly in rows of double crochet, back and forth, just one colour running into the next midway through a row, knotting them together as I went. 

Super quick and easy, and such a liberating way to make something, without worrying about colour changes or whether or not I have enough to complete a row. It took one evening to make. 

It's a great little mat, and it washes and dries really well. Plus it feels so squishy and bouncy underfoot when you get out of the shower. 

It thrills me, it really does, that a 10 mm crochet hook, my hands, a book and my brain can turn a load of rag yarn into all these different things.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Celebrating January

As I did this time last year, I am trying my very best to embrace and celebrate the month of January. It can feel like a long, dark month during which all we seem to do is recover from the excesses of December, both physically and financially, and that seems like a waste of a month to me.

The more I think about it, the more I have come to treasure and relish January as a time stay at home, stay local, savour small pleasures, work quietly through to-do lists and make plans for the year ahead. Last year I had a lot of fun finding one good thing a day to celebrate throughout the month but this year, now that I am at work every day, that's just not achievable. Some days this week have been so full to the brim that I can barely tell you what month it is, never mind what was good about it. But I still like the principle. 

So, here are some things that have brought me happiness this January:

:: The shapes of the bare trees against in the sky, even in the mist.

:: Bunches of daffodils on sale everywhere, especially these pale ones. They seem like the right shade of yellow for January somehow.

:: Buying oranges for marmalade.

:: Starting new books. (Also - note the cough syrup. January is also, sadly a month of germs and illness.)

:: Favourite winter woolens, old ones, new ones and handmade ones.

:: Making things for the house.

:: Green shoots, inside and out.

:: Working on old WIPS, like never-ending blankets.

:: Planning new WIPS, like warm pink mittens.

There is one thing I haven't managed to do so much this month and that is get outside. The best days, the really ice-cold, crystal clear ones, have sadly fallen on week days when all I can do is look longingly at the sky from the window. and make sure I really take in the sunsets as I leave work in the afternoons (and isn't it getting lighter and lighter each day? I can really feel the difference.) Sometimes the weekends are just so full. Never mind, there will be lots more opportunities for walks before this winter is over. 

I hope January is being kind to you.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Make, Bake, Sew, Grow

Two weeks into January and it's as if the Christmas holidays never happened. Nothing dramatic, but it's just a head-down, get on with it kind of month. John is working three late shifts a week throughout January and I'm feeling the impact at home, dealing with all the after school clubs, tea time, bed time etc on my own. I'm not feeling sorry for my self exactly, or particularly anxious, just really, really tired

Work is good. I like my job very much, to the point where I look forward to going, and I am very thankful for that. Home life muddles along quite happily - weekends over the next few months are filling up rapidly with plans to see friends near and far. We are talking to builders about knocking down walls and looking at kitchens, doing sums and making plans.

Now seems like a good time to revisit my Make Bake Sew Grow posts, my way of cherishing my home comforts when life gets very busy, as it inevitably does. 

{ Make }

I was given a gorgeous little mid-century coffee table, all clean lines and tapered legs, by a colleague. It was found in her garage and kindly passed our way. It's a little stained but fundamentally sound, and it's now in our garage, where I am sanding and varnishing it. 

Just try really hard to look at the table and nothing else in this photo please. Thank you. 

{ Bake }

So much kitchen activity lately! I bought a reduced panettone from Waitrose after Christmas. It was soft, gooey and buttery like brioche. Most of it was sliced and eaten with a cup of coffee or tea and the rest was baked with a creamy custard to make a panettone bread and butter pudding. No photos but trust me, it was good.

New cookery books have been perused, new recipes have been bookmarked. From Simply Nigella we made Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese.

It's just a really good macaroni cheese made thicker and richer with the addition of mashed sweet potatoes which sounds wrong but is completely delicious. It was a huge hit with the kids too.

There was also Massaman Beef Curry. A bit of a faff initially, as it's supposed to be cooked the day before you eat it and left in the fridge so that the flavours develop, and that's asking an awful lot of organisation and pre-planning from us, let me tell you. Then you add potatoes and heat it again until they are cooked, then stir in loads of coriander. It's not a typical thick-sauced Indian style curry, as the coconut milk base is more Thai, but more of a spicy, fragrant stew which is warming and nourishing.

And there was marmalade cake.

This much-used recipe is from the first Kitchen Diaries book by Nigel Slater. I love to make it every January. 

{ Sew }

I have five things on the go at the moment but all attention is firmly focused on a baby blanket for a friend at school who is due to give birth in the next few weeks.

Simple, classic granny squares edged in white, with a colour combination that is hopefully aimed at either sex.

I am half way through and making good progress, while watching the completely gripping and superb Making a Murderer.

{ Grow }

The bulbs (daffodils, I think) I planted in October are up already, and much too soon. What's going to give me colour in the garden in March if they're up already?

Unimpeded by frost, my geraniums are, amazingly, still growing and flowering. 

But if this current cold snap continues - and I hope it does, I am relishing the cold, clear skies after so much rain - they will need to be covered. Which I'll probably forget to do and then they will die and I'll probably buy some more in the spring. Such is the circle of life in my back garden.

Sunday, 10 January 2016


Cold mornings, but not cold enough to be frosty. Pancakes for breakfast, fluffy and golden. Pottering with the pots on the mantel. Bright green shoots, pussy willow and dried billy button flowers. Soup for lunch, hot and aromatic, full of ginger and star anise. Lighting the fire in the afternoon. The sound of rain blowing against the windows. Homemade pizza in front of a Scandinavian crime drama on TV. An extra blanket on the bed. Morning coffee in the gloom. A grey garden. Hail storms. Bacon and egg sandwiches on thick cut white bread, with ketchup. Recycling the Christmas tree. A trip to a new yarn shop and the start of a baby blanket for a friend. Winter things. Warming things.