cecil collins

Lying in bed ill - especially if you are not too ill to read webpages on the laptop - allows for an amiably non-scholarly kind of research into all manner of varied and tenuously connected subjects.

A chance meeting with an old scrap of paper that fell out of my sketchbook reminded me that I had been very much taken with the work of Cecil Collins at the Blake exhibition in March, and so it began...

Quite a long time and much exclaiming and clicketyclicking later I am fascinated to find that this brilliant artist spent several years living in a village less than ten miles from my childhood home in the Buckinghamshire hills, where he was near neighbours with the iconic yet deeply pervy Eric Gill and where he met the illustrator and poet David Jones who I hadn't known about, but should have, because someone I know of through work has written masses about him.

Collins, who taught alongside all sorts of amazing people like Mervyn Peake and Bernard Leach, is probably most famous for his Fools series of paintings and drawings, but I like his more organic, curvaceous and visionary works better.

Another interesting thing I discovered about CC is that he was born in 1908, making this year the anniversary of his birth, another good reason to post about his beautiful work.

Hope you like it too.

All the images are as usual copyright of their various owners, used by me only as illustration for my amateurish musings and mustn't be used for anything important.


So, now even the gentle art of blogging has been appropriated by the so-called slow movement. A recent article in the New York Times describes the 'small, quirky movement' of slow bloggers as affirming 'that not all things worth reading are written quickly'. Well, that's certainly true enough. But do we really need this explaining to us and given a name?

And why, I always wonder, do journalists generally describe imaginative or slightly different people as 'quirky'? Definitions of quirky include 'eccentric' and 'peculiar'. Often what I do is labelled this way just because it is different. Is it really eccentric to consider things carefully, write well and thoughtfully?

Basically, giving something the 'slow' label - be it food, work, lifestyle or blogs - seems to be synonymous with focussing wholly on the job in hand, doing it to the best of our ability, and doing it with pride and pleasure. Trying not to do too much, valuing what we have, and not spreading ourselves too thinly. That is, exactly how many of us have been getting on with things for years.

I know some might see it as cynical, but I can't help recalling the words 'emperor' and 'new clothes'.

Am I alone with these thoughts?

Angel 3

Here's something that wasn't written quickly. Angel at St Lawrence's Church, Ludlow.

With thanks to Book Girl for her excellent post on this subject which got me thinking.

mouse shop is now open!

Hooray! You can now buy all my handmade things at the new shop. Click here to go there now.

There are reusable shopping bags, embroidered bags, linen hearts and pincushions, and a few Christmassy things as well.

There is even a Wedding section...

Please do visit and have a look, and then tell me what you think! I'd really value your feedback. And as a little thank you to you all, there's 10% off your orders for the next two weeks! Just enter the code 'NOTEBOOK' at checkout.

bryan's ground

Today I'd like to introduce you to one of my most favourite gardens. It's wonderfully hidden away in the countryside near beautiful, secretive Presteigne, which is itself hidden away in the magical, historic Marches - neither England, nor Wales, but both.

It's owned by David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, who as well as making a beautiful garden also publish Hortus, probably the most exquisitely lovely gardening publication you can buy.

I am a bit unusual in that I don't favour brightly coloured, tidy gardens with everything neatly kept. I like a bit of mystery, a hint of wildness, the opportunity to get lost, and a lot of green: a sort of managed semi-abandonment. Bryan's Ground hits all the right notes for me: it's quirky, overgrown, romantic, full of shady, hidden places to sit, totally idiosyncratic, yet hugely welcoming. The reason it succeeds so well is that David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell are enormously knowledgeable about plants and design and nothing happens without being planned or anticipated by them.

I have been twice now, and loved it both times. I would go again tomorrow, but it is not open in 2008, for a rather sad reason: David Wheeler is recovering from cancer. He is, at least as far as I know, well again now, and you can read his affecting and inspiring story here.

I've got my fingers crossed that the garden will soon be open again. I love this beautiful, timeless part of the country, and will doubtless be returning next year. I would not like to miss my visit to Bryan's Ground.

lessons learned

I absolutely promise that this is the last post about the ***** craft fair.

It was a very mixed experience which was often quite difficult for me, a natural introvert who is not good at selling herself. Yes, perhaps it would have been better to have stayed at home, but I wanted to push myself and have some contact with buyers, and see what people liked and didn't like.

First things first: I covered the stall fee, and made a small profit too, so that was a huge weight off my mind.

However, I didn't sell as much as I'd hoped, and to be honest I think that had more than a little to do with the standard of the fair and the quality of the other sellers. Apart from a lovely potter called Sylvia, there was not much else there to interest me, and quite a lot else that positively set my teeth on edge. I'm not being snobby here: many stalls were selling stock that they'd quite obviously bought in that was of a very low standard: Power Rangers hats and scarves, metallic fake leather handbags, plastic rucksacks. Not the sort of thing I expected to find at a National Trust property craft fair, but that was my first lesson: always check your craft fair very, very carefully. If they don't vet the sellers, be wary.

My second lesson was about stall design: you need height, and you need to create order. People like to feel in their own little world, and height at the back makes it seem more like a shop. Also, too much busyness confuses the eye. On day two I rearranged everything in rows and blocks and this worked a lot better.

My third lesson is a bit vaguer, but has to do with psychology: I need to learn when to give information, when to gently push, and when to apparently immerse myself in a paperback. Again, not all things that come naturally to an introvert, but which I must work on if I am to be successful in the future.

I came home both days utterly exhausted and rather depressed, but a couple of days of mental recharging has allowed me to regroup and start to feel positive and creative again. The house also feels a lot better after a serious blasting to rid it of dust, dirt, and a million little threads trodden over every carpeted surface.

My next job is to get my online shop up and running, so it's time to put my computer nerd specs on and pull my anorak hood up over my head. Come back soon and see if I've succeeded, or whether I've been eaten alive by html....

More pics on Flickr, if you can face them...

hanging on the telephone

In an attempt to restore some order to my life and house today, I have done a pile of washing, vacuumed up my threads from where they have been trailed all over the house over the last fortnight, sorted out loads of admin, and waited on hold for over an hour to arrange a new phone upgrade.

This is how I passed the time while I was on the phone.

All of these photos were found on Flickr and are copyright of those who took them. Please don't use them without getting permission. 1. crow tree, 2. Crow Tree, 3. crow & berries, 4. The bird and the moon II, 5. Bird & Moon, 6. Full moon., 7. birds, 8. Birds at Dusk, 9. Bird Tree

all ready

I'm sure you are all sick of looking at stuff for the craft fair, so here's some lovely lovely buttons instead.

At last everything is ready for tomorrow. Tagged, priced, labelled, ironed, packaged and tucked up into four large plastic crates.

It's my first craft market so I've no idea what to expect... my lovely friend Julia is coming to help me, so at the very least we will have a giggle and drink lots of tea. Hopefully I'll sell something...

And now I feel the urge to go and paint my short, stubby, needle-pricked and ink-ravaged fingernails dark purple.

Keep everything crossed for me.

the sounds of a quiet house

Today the light is very dim. The earth is moving gradually further and further from our sun and each day will become shorter and shorter over the next five weeks.

This is bad news for people who are wanting to take photographs of bags and accessories... but I have had a go and you will see a few bits and pieces throughout the length of this post.

This week as I've been stitching and snipping, printing and stapling, painting and packing for hours and hours and hours, I've been hugely aware of my senses. For the most part my eyes and hands have been too busy to notice much other than the few square inches in front of me, but my ears and nose have been wide open.

The sounds of the house and the space around us: crows in the tall trees, the wind, the distant traffic, the gentle hum of my laptop, a far-off train, the hiss and click of the iron. The smell of paint and ink and paper, the way each fabric smells different when it's ironed, the bouncing unruliness of polyester ribbon.

And at some point in the day - at least just for a time, because I like the silence too - the comforting tones of the radio, filling the room with stories, plays, odd little programmes about cider or 24-hour shopping, and repeated late-night music shows.

So that's been my week. What are the sounds of your house?

return of the clones

Here, then, are the successful ones, the happy ones, the perfect ones, the ones who are going to be allowed to show off at Quarry Bank Mill craft fair this weekend.

They are celebrating by doing a little circle dance.

If you'd like to come and see them dance, and you are lucky enough to live in Manchester or Cheshire, please pop along:

Quarry Bank Mill Craft Fair
This Saturday and Sunday 15th and 16th November
£1 adult entry

Quarry Bank Mill and the Styal estate is well worth a visit if you haven't been. There are woods, a winding river with places to play Pooh Sticks, and a fabulous working cotton mill. It's National Trust so the website will tell you more.

Hope to see you there!

meet the family

Shhh... don't let them hear, but despite their cheerful and stoic faces, this poor little family have all been cruelly rejected on grounds of appearance and technical ineptitude.

They are lined up in order of experimentation: I wasted a whole day on this yesterday, each time hoping that this one was the final one, and each time finding problems with the face, the ears, the stuffing hole or the roundedness of their bottoms. Poor little catbears.

Anyway I am pleased to report that some sort of perfection has now been achieved and the new superduper smartypants catbear will be appearing soon at craft markets in the north west of England, sporting a variety of attractive outfits.

I will get him to pose for a photo before he goes.

a frenzy of making and sewing

So far November has been bonkers. I've hardly left my artroom except to eat, sleep, and today, to come to work - a welcome rest. The day after I signed up for Art Every Day Month and the Christmas Ornament Swap I decided it would be nice to do a Christmas craft market this year...

Now the house is overflowing with bags, hearts, tree ornaments, gift tags and pincushions...

Which is nice, but... will there be enough? Will I get everything done in time? Will my family still be alive at the end of next week?

Oh and another thing...

What if nobody buys anything?

corners of my house

Today I'm sitting making embroidered linen hearts for a craft market that I'm doing in ten days' time. Too busy sewing to write very much, so I thought I'd show you some things from my house instead.

holiday ornament swap

I'm excited to have signed up for this:

A brilliantly simple idea hosted by Cake and Pie and Freshly Blended, which, in return for a little making and packaging, should see ten different handmade Christmas ornaments plopping through my letterbox in December!

How lovely is that?

Come and join in!