extra goodies to win and still plenty of time to enter!

I have been enjoying your comments so much and started to feel sad that only one of you could win, so I've decided to pick not one but three names from the hat on Sunday, and the two 'runners up' will be able to choose anything they like from the Mouse Shop!

I'll be drawing the names on Sunday afternoon, so there's still lots of time to leave a comment.

Lots of luck to you all!

patchwork hexagon giveaway!

My current project is a baby sized patchwork quilt. In keeping with my new year's resolution to use up fabric, yarn and so on from my stash, I'm piecing it together from unused hexagons left over from my Great Work (as yet still un-quilted I regret to say). I've chosen the softer, gentler colours and added a few new ones from some Liberty lawn that I've been saving for something special.

What does all this have to do with freebies, you may be asking?

Well, there are still nearly 300 hexagonal patches left, most of them hand-sewn onto paper backing, which is more than enough to make a quilt of at least 1m by 1.5m (the hexagons are 8cm diameter). They just need stitching together, the papers removing, sandwiching together with batting and a backing cloth, and quilting either by hand or machine.

I am ready to move on to something different now, but many hours of choosing, cutting out, ironing, folding and stitching has gone into these lovelies.

Would anybody like them?

They are mostly bright colours, both patterns and plains, both new and vintage fabrics. Some are from a dress I had as a little girl in the 1960s, some are from 1930s pinnies, some are 1970s and 80s Laura Ashley. A real ragbag mix.

Hand sewn patchwork is more and more of a rarity these days but it's a technique I learned from my Granny and think is really beautiful. Whatever you make this way has love and patience stitched into it and will always look special.

So, if you fancy giving it a go and would like to receive 300 hexagons parcelled up and delivered to your door completely free, ready for a nice little spring project, leave a comment! Make sure you leave an email address or some way of contacting you if you are the winner. I will put the names into a hat at the weekend and send the parcel early next week to anywhere in the world.

Your finished patchwork will end up looking a bit like this (sans quilting)...

Please note that this giveaway has now ended.

hat pattern extra!

For those interested in the hat pattern mentioned in the post below, it is a 1936 beret pattern which can be found here.

I made a few adaptations...

I had no idea what 'sports yarn' was, and since my aim anyway was to use up oddments of yarn from my stash, I improvised a bit...well, quite a lot...

I used two 50g balls of white/cream baby four-ply and crocheted them together, thus achieving something approximating a double-knit weight. To best accommodate this, I used a 5mm hook.

Pattern-wise, I chose to work in half-treble (half-double if you are from the US) crochet rather than single. I would also work the first couple of rounds differently if I was making it again: the instructions as written create a pronounced peak to the hat which in my view had unwelcome associations with Smurfs. I dealt with this by tucking it in from the back and hiding it with a few stitches, but you would be better advised to start with 18 stitches, then work even for one round, then begin to increase as usual. Oh, and I recommend the magic circle method of starting off.

To make the perky little flower, I used Teresa's brilliant tutorial on YouTube.

If you can't crochet or want to learn new stitches or techniques, I can't recommend Teresa highly enough. Along with her two accomplices, the Pause and Rewind buttons, she is a very fine teacher indeed. She will also teach you the magic circle technique if you so desire.

use it up, wear it out

Chilly weather precipitates need for hat. Credit crunch pixie suggests browse through yarn stash. Cold damp afternoon provides desire to stay in and sit on sofa. Pixie reminds about hat project. Internet search provides pattern. Four hours later, hat is finished! Instantly, hat is dearly loved. Later, sulking occurs when hat must be taken off for bed...

as promised...

For a long time now I've admired the work of C.F. Tunnicliffe RA (1901-1979). He was a prolific book illustrator, which is how I mostly knew his work but since I got hold of his biography 1 just after Christmas I've learnt that he produced so much more than those exquisite line drawings and watercolours.

Apart from his obvious draughtsmanship and beautifully understated and sensitive use of colour, I think the thing I love most about his work is his eye for design, the way he works a scene to create movement and interest on every area of the page.

Charles Tunnicliffe was born on a farm in Langley, Cheshire, near where my parents now live, and spent the early years of his marriage living in Whalley Range, Manchester, very near to where I now live. However, this is where all similarity ends, as he was an incredibly hardworking, prolific and observant artist who quickly rose to prominence and was seldom without work. 2 Some of his most well-known and loved illustrations were for Henry Williamson's beautiful book Tarka the Otter.

He has an incredible affinity for and understanding of the British countryside, and every single piece of his work seems to somehow embody the damp, earthy magic of this land which means so much to me.

He was never really happy in Manchester (hmm, perhaps we have more in common than I first thought) and in 1947 he moved to a little cottage overlooking the Cefni estuary on Anglesey where he painted and drew, drew and painted. The birds, the light, the water.

Tunnicliffe was devoted to accuracy, and over the years he built up a huge portfolio of measured post mortem drawings of birds and animals like these, with friends and neighbours often helping by delivering dead or frozen creatures to his house. Even in these purely technical reference works, his incredible genius for layout and design shines out.

Hopefully many of you will already know and love C.F. Tunnicliffe's work, but if not, I hope you've enjoyed this little introduction. You can see more of his drawings and illustrations as well as reading more about his life and the writers with whom he collaborated at the splendid website of the Charles Tunnicliffe Society.

1 Ian Niall, Portrait of a Country Artist, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1980
2 This is not any kind of weird false modesty! I am a very slow worker who takes ages to process ideas, and usually have very little to show for time spent 'being creative'.

All images belong of course to the estate of C.F. Tunnicliffe and as usual mustn't be reproduced or used for anything important.


It's difficult to think of many things more beautiful than birds. I saw these paper and wire pigeons in the window of 'Anthropologie' in New York last month and loved them. They were hard to photograph though.

And this morning we had five jays in our garden. The blue of a jay feather seems to me to be magical. If ever I find one lying on the ground, I feel like I have found treasure.

taking no prisoners

I am not a fan of Portmeirion and its Prisoner connections. Although I love 1960s Avengers episodes and early James Bond films I never quite understood The Prisoner's sinister quirkiness, although I am married to someone who really, really does.

The village and garden of Portmeirion, as everybody knows, was created near Portmadoc in North Wales by the crazy-wonderful Clough Williams-Ellis and later became very well known for the ceramics designed by his daughter (which I do rather like).

However, what hardly anyone knows is that Williams-Ellis also created another garden just up the road from Portmeirion which is smaller, more intimate and utterly magical. It is one of my all-time favourite gardens and it is called Plas Brondanw.

This is the estate that Clough Williams-Ellis inherited from his father and lived in until his death in 1978, and he put huge amounts of time, energy and money into creating and nurturing this secret garden full of ferns, worn stone steps, mosaics and painted ironwork, all tucked away on the side of a magical wooded hillside with the most breathtaking views of Snowdonia.

I have visited this garden and the surrounding woods and paths many many times and I think it is one of my happiest and most creative places to be. These pictures are from several years ago but I hope they convey something of the spirit of the place. You can see lots more here.

lazy sunday crochet

Recently I've been trying my hand at trickier crochet techniques, having mastered (but not yet exhausted the possibilities of - oh goodness me no) different coloured circles made into blanket squares (see here and here for previous examples of this particular addiction).

This scarf is an attempt to trial some of the stitches I'm going to need for this little baby jacket I'm making, or perhaps it's just a selfish act of instant gratification because I want and NEED a soft pinky merino scarf to warm my pretty little neck... you decide.

Next week I'm going to post some more photos of the work of C.F. Tunnicliffe, one of my favourite painters of wildlife and the English countryside, so to whet your appetite here's 'Thrush in snow', one of his etchings from 1935.

the lovely work of linda solovic

I recently discovered the inspirational work of this talented artist who lives and works in St Louis, USA. I loved her eye for pattern and detail, and thought I'd share some of her designs with you.

Linda is a designer and senior lecturer in art, who lists some of her many inspirations as 'vintage greeting cards, quilts, outsider art, Hello Kitty, 50’s and 60’s children’s illustration, animated cartoons and movies, fabric, Marimekko and Japanese Zakka sewing projects'.

I love her subtle colour palette and interesting textured surfaces. You can see more of her work at her website and Etsy shop.


I have only recently become aware of the term commonplace book to describe a miscellany, scrapbook or collection of interesting snippets. Yes, we all know I am very slow. Stop laughing. But it's funny how once you hear of something, it keeps popping up. At the library where I work, we have lots of manuscript collections, but it was only through reading some of Joel's research notes that I found they were known as commonplace books. Then, only a couple of days later, the catalogue of this exhibition appeared on my desk for shelving. The title page contains this wonderful description of a study, from Comenius's Orbis sensualium pictus, published in 1672:

"... a place where a student, apart from men, sitteth alone, addicted to his studies, whilst he readeth books, which being within his reach he layeth upon a desk and picketh all the best things out of them into his own manual."

I have always kept a notebook in exactly this way, and a blog, of course, in the form that many of us keep one, is also a sort of commonplace 'book' or scrapbook to record things that interest us. This is an idea that much cleverer people than me have already explored, but I rather like the sense of connection with the past that it gives.

For me, certainly, this space functions in exactly the way that a commonplace book might have done, providing inspiration, a means to remember creative processes and experiences, somewhere to make lists, a place to collect my thoughts. I count myself lucky to live in an age where it's all made so easy and the pleasure to be gained from it is so great.

To suit the mood, the photos in this post are just ones I like and thought looked nice together. The last one is the beautiful fabric of a Nicole Farhi skirt I recently sold (for peanuts) on Ebay and now wish I'd kept for patchwork... what was I thinking?

a big adventure

On Monday I returned from spending six days alone in New York City, where, for reasons too complicated to enter into, I stayed in my ex-husband's apartment near Times Square, partly packing boxes and sorting out paperwork, and partly exploring the wonders of Manhattan.

This was my first ever trip to New York, but it was a little bit like visiting somewhere I'd been in a dream: despite the fact that I watch hardly any telly or film, almost everywhere was recognisable either visually or by name. Quite strange.

There was quite a lot of weather during my stay, and if I wasn't drowning, I was being blown along sideways, shaking the snowflakes out of my hair, or shivering, comedy style. Central Park looked beautiful with its light white dusting.

The concept of indoors suddenly became rather attractive, and that was easy enough with the vast assortment of museums, galleries and exhibitions on offer. I spent a very happy hour filling my notebook with scribbles and sketches here...

...and the highlight of my trip was meeting the beautiful, stylish, and very lovely Frances of blogging fame, with whom I visited the marvellous Metropolitan Museum of Art to see their brand new Pierre Bonnard exhibition. I knew very little of Bonnard but was mesmerised by the delicate beauty and magic of his work. I was then treated to a surprise visit to the New York Society Library, a secret gem just off Fifth Avenue, which was beautiful enough on its own but just perfect for a curious library assistant like me.

But it wasn't all about culture. There was plenty of eating, and I'm pleased to be able to report that Manhattan provides generously (and beautifully) for the gluten-free muncher...

Having discovered the brilliant bus system, I spent many happy hours bobbing around the city sightseeing, and especially loved the Upper West Side, where I spent some of my holiday dollars at Knitty City, and strolled the elegant and very desirable streets. I also had to pop into Purl, of course, which is an absolute must if you are visiting.

On the last day I took a bus all the way to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island, skirting the strange, empty space that is Ground Zero, and ending up with a brilliant free trip zipping across the water on this...

But oddly, perhaps the best experience of the whole visit was not in New York at all, but seen from the window of the plane at an altitude of 40,000ft... the icy sea off the coast of Canada, and its silent, wild, ice-bound shore and beautiful forests, illuminated by a brilliant, soft sun. Magic.