winter holiday

As each year ends and a new one begins, I find myself becoming two different people... one busy and bright, the other quiet and still. I have come to regard the dark days around the winter solstice as the turning point of the year rather than the human construct of the first of January, and so once the glittering rush of Christmas is over I am full of the sense of slowly moving forward, of newness and inspiration and the hint of green shoots.

The week before Christmas is like the first movement of a symphony: the major key, the bright notes, the excitement, the great crash and wonder of Christmas Day... and yet hidden away in the music is the quiet song that will come into bloom in the second, slow movement which begins to break through about today... the minor key, the mystery, the stillness, the calm quiet of the winter holidays. Then, the white light of New Year's Eve, the beginning of the third movement, double forte, the resolution of the music and the season, the start of all things new... that time is still to come.

So, the busyness and bustling, the making of mince pies, the mulling of wine, the sweet sentimentality of carols and the rustling of paper and presents is over and the 'other' me is here, sitting by the fire, listening to the snow melting, watching the twinkling shadows of the lights in the green depths of the Christmas tree branches, thinking, dreaming... and reading. Finally getting a chance to catch up with my favourite blogs, the newspaper articles I've saved and the books I've been piling up for later.

There has been so much of interest and inspiration to feast on... I thought I'd share a couple of links that have caught my attention over the last few days.

I discovered the wonderfully well-written blog Spitalfields Life only recently... an illuminating read on any day of the week but especially absorbing over the month of December as we have been treated to the tale of The Death of a Linen Draper, the brilliantly Dickensian true story of a horrible murder which took place in the east end of London nearly two hundred years ago in 1811. It's in ten installments and we are up to number eight today. Do go and read it, it's as good as a novel.

Another place I would urge you to visit is this great post, which I found via the lovely Greenolive. Holly at Decor*8 asked the question "What’s the one thing you’ve read recently that has resonated with you and made you think? Why?" There are nearly 100 responses... every one makes you think, all of them are thoughtful and wise, and many lead to new paths and directions. So many talk of love and loss, creativity and perfectionism, the way that the stillness of winter moves us in different ways... it is well worth reading through them, maybe a few at a time over the holidays. I was particularly struck by this excerpt from a poem by Lynn Unger, which seems to encapsulate the essence of what I try to do each day, and why:

Come down. Try to remember
a life gentled by daily acts
of domestic faith—the pot
set to boil, the bed made up,
the table set in calm expectation
that when the sun sets
we will still be here.

Wintry favourites from Flickr: 1. Untitled, 2. 2009 Ornament Swap - garland in window, 3. Winterzeit und Kerzenschein, 4. Untitled

winter light

In the few precious hours of midwinter daylight this week I have managed to find a little time for making, including these papier mache tree decorations for my best friend... a coat of Swedish Blue emulsion with initials and snowflakes in silver dry gouache powder mixed with iridescent medium... chocolates inside and all wrapped up in snowy white tissue paper.

I've also been doing some sewing, making market bags for gifts as well as costumes and accessories for the York Mystery Play we recently took part in.

Taking inspiration from here I spent an evening quietly snipping and folding, and now our front room has a rather 1960s feel, with big round snowflakes descending from the picture rails.

I have always loved to pile the house high with evergreens at Christmas, and as we are lucky enough to live in an area with many flats and student houses that have big mature gardens I have been out doing a little 'community pruning'...

( I locked myself out of the house taking this photo, not for the first time this week... the other two incidents were snow-related...)

I love the gentle, homely preparations for Christmas that run alongside the inevitable busyness... all the quiet, solitary occupations that light up the house and make it magical. Now we are almost ready and the next thing I know it will be Christmas Eve and I'll be getting up early to join the queue outside the butcher to collect our turkey, spending the day making fragrant stock for the gravy, bread sauce and chestnut stuffing, ironing the table linen and peeling sprouts as the rest of the family come and go, the rustling of furtive wrapping-up can be heard behind closed doors and the pile beneath the tree begins to grow. Lots of cups of tea, and carols on the radio.

Have a lovely Christmas.

morning surprise

Look what dropped through my door this morning... this gorgeous glazed clay ornament and beautiful card by Susan Schwake. Isn't it just the loveliest? It arrived as part of the ornament swap which I joined last month... lots of little treasures have been plopping onto the mat but this one has really made it for me... thanks Susan! Have a look at her lovely work, it is amazing.

Otherwise things are a bit of a pine-scented blur hereabouts. The tree is up and lots of things are ready, but also lots of things aren't. I have been making a few gifts but have to confess I always get stressed at this time of year and this one is no exception. I have been rather grumpy :-(

Never mind, it will all work out just as it always does, and there is the calm quiet promise of the new year just coming into view on the horizon with its call of new beginnings and resolutions... more art, more drawing, more time to create... yes please.

silver and gold

I enjoy making my own Christmas cards and try to make a batch most years, time permitting. This year I decided to make use of my stash of old Country Living magazines and turn some of their gorgeous photography to my advantage.

I spent a happy few hours with my circle cutter, a stick of glue and lots of lovely shiny ribbon... the nice thing about having one of each is being able to choose the card to match the person.

The beautiful papier mache pinecones are from Germany... not from Munich but from the lovely Carola at Boxwood Cottage. I covered them with silver leaf and have a few more still to do before Christmas.

Our Christmas cake this year has taken a departure from the usual icing-covered snow scene: as our family's chief cake-eater is spending the winter in the sunshine of Australia we decided to adopt a less tooth-splittingly sweet decorative approach. It's a little late for cake-making really... I wasn't going to bother, but suddenly got the urge. It's a wonderfully soothing and nurturing process of chopping, soaking, weighing, measuring, stirring and slowly slowly baking that always makes me feel serene and peaceful. The warm, sweet smell that winds its way up the stairs and fills the house is very good for the soul.

Also good for the soul are the incredible sunsets we've been having the last few days. After a short grey day of dampness and biting wind with all the colour leached from the landscape, suddenly the western sky is split with a vanilla light so piercingly bright it makes everything stop for a few precious minutes while you watch it gently and ever so slowly shift and fade away...

impressions of munich

I have enjoyed a wonderful weekend in the beautiful city of Munich, which was not at all as I expected and was an absolutely lovely city to visit... gorgeous buildings, elegant squares, delicious food, trams, trains and an underground, museums, galleries, lots and lots of parks, trees and green spaces, refreshing beer, friendly people and terrific warm weather!

I went to meet my old friend Sarie who teaches there... we had a lovely mix of whizzing around seeing interesting places and experiencing the city, and lazing around in her lovely modern apartment near the Englische Garten, drinking wine and tea and catching up with each other's lives.

Mistletoe grew everywhere in the tall birch trees, giving a wintry feel.

All the shops were getting ready for Christmas and there was masses of greenery everywhere.

The Germans love flowers and sell them on every corner.

We bought fresh dates to eat on the tram, and clementines in a little cone of paper.

Munich is a devoutly Catholic city and there are many many madonnas and little saints statues embedded into the walls of buildings and apartments, or high up above the street.

On Sunday all the museums and galleries reduce their entry fee to one euro. We chose to visit the Pinakothek der Moderne, where we visited their exhibition on the history of design as well as getting to see some amazing modern masterpieces including works by the Blaue Reiter group.

Here we are having a well-earned rest on the space-age modern rocking chairs in the design exhibition.

I can't recommend Munich highly enough as a place to visit... next time I have been promised a trip to the mountains which are only an hour or so away. I was hugely impressed by the German way of life, their sense of design and style, civic pride and forward-thinking approach to the environment... and of course their delicious wurst and weissbier...


Not that I'm the sort who goes jetting about for the weekend normally, you know, but tomorrow I'm flying off to Munich very early in the morning for a little adventure... it's just what I need at the moment... I've never been before so am quite excited. Early next week I'll post some photos and hopefully have some stories to tell and inspiration to share.

Thank you to everybody who kindly bought things from the shop in my autumn sale. The shop has now closed for a while but there will be more soon, I promise. I'm looking forward to some creative time on my return.

This week I sent off my ten little packages of christmas decorations to my partners in Freshly Blended's 2009 Christmas Ornament Swap. I meant to do it last year but forgot to register, doh. It was fun packing them all up and posting them off all over the world... and should be even more fun receiving my own ten surprise ornaments over the next few weeks.

So now it's off to try and fit all my things in a rucksack and wrap up against the stormy weather to go and get some euros from the post office.

See you next week.

making discoveries

A parcel of linen hearts went off in the post to my London lady this week. I was very pleased with how nice they looked with the new labels.

I have managed some creative time this week but it is interesting how my thoughts keep coming back to bags... I don't know why. I went to the post office with the hearts and had an idea for a new shopper... four hours later I admitted defeat... I think maybe my head is not geared up for all those technical challenges at the moment... maybe I just need to draw and paint for a bit, loosen up.

I think if your aim is to make a decorative item you are thinking primarily about the finished product and how the embellishment or decoration will slot into the making process... whereas if you are simply creating, exploring, mark-making, the creative process is freer.

It is so interesting to make all these discoveries. Giving myself time and freedom allows these explorations and mistakes become useful rather than a waste of time.

This afternoon we have been treated to a rare daytime visit from our lovely resident owl. We often hear hooting at night but seldom see anything other than a brief rush of feathery wings in the day. Today he, or she, has been sitting for hours in the rain in our neighbours' beech tree, beautifully camouflaged.

Later: when we looked out at dusk there were two owls there in the tree, one above the other... magical.

freer and lighter

Since my decision not to make anything as a purely commercial venture anymore I feel so much better. I felt my creativity was being utterly stifled by the need to time and cost everything and it wasn't just that I was producing stuff I didn't like - I completely calcified and couldn't produce anything. Like a rabbit in headlights I just felt fear and alarm and with no idea which way to go next.

I've started to re-examine my decisions and the way I'm working. For example, the labels I was using were bothering me and so I made a new choice to bin them and make hand-stitched, hand-written labels instead. More work but the result is me. The colour is chosen by me instead of off a swatch card, the fabric is cotton and linen rather than scratchy polyester, the paper is proper laid paper and not bargain-price card. Now that I plan to make fewer, better quality and less commercial items for sale, this all becomes possible. I can change them when I like, move, breathe, feel, dream...

I feel free again and it is a wonderful feeling.

even more lovely bargains!

Firstly I want to say a huge and heartfelt 'thank you' to those who posted such thoughtful and wise comments yesterday... I have heard you loud and clearly! I know what I have to do... the words kept repeating themselves... 'follow your heart'...

And my heart is telling me that it is tired of designing to the lowest common denominator. It wants to think bigger and more beautiful. I simply can't make things as lovely as I'd like them to be at a price that will appeal to the mass market.

And so... I am having a total, utter, complete and entire STOCK CLEARANCE! I kept a few things back from the sale last month, thinking they might 'do' for the London Lady... but I have decided on a clean sweep with a new broom. Out with the old Mouse, in with the new, whatever that might be...

So this is your very last chance to grab a bargain - and these are really good bargains - post and packing is FREE to anywhere in the world so the prices you see are the prices you pay.

We have lovely, delicate wire and paper heart decorations...

...which are only £4.50 including postage to anywhere in the world...

And there are a very limited number of the brown gingham check Market Bags...

...which come neatly packed up in their own little pouch and are only £5.50 including postage and packing.

Last but not least there is a Pincushion Bonanza! I have several pincushions left over in lots of different designs and colours so it's a Lucky Dip - you choose the shape and colour and for only £3 including postage you get a surprise design.

Please do have a look and maybe you will be able to tick off a few more presents on your Christmas list... this is your last chance to own one of these Mouse originals! Thank you all.

my intention

" intention was never to become famous... my intention was to tell my story and to tell the truth..."

Jay-Z in this interview with Andrew Marr*

I find myself asking this question of myself yet again... what is my intention... if you pop in here at all regularly you'll know that I'm always tying myself in knots over this... first of all I'm making bags, then I'm giving that side of things a rest and concentrating on my art, then I'm experimenting again, then all change again...

All this has come about because of a frustrating day attempting to design some new embroidered bags. I thought this would be easy and quick... after many false starts, several total turn-arounds and an emergency dash for more threads, three Kit Kats and gallons of tea, I am sitting staring at... nothing much.

The problem as always with trying to make products to sell is the equation involving labour hours, aesthetics, practicality, saleability and a fair price. What works in terms of cost looks rubbish. To make something really beautiful from the heart would be a work of art, not something to carry groceries in.

I have been seduced into saleable stuff again because a nice lady in a trendy shop in London wants to stock my work... this seems like such an opportunity and one not to be missed, so I've been trying so hard to come up with designs that I like and feel connected with and that I can make over and over again and make a fair profit on.

And yet, and yet... what I am making is not giving me that deep-down rich sense of fulfilment that I crave.

And yet and yet... playing and creating for its own sake won't pay for dinner.

And time is not infinite, Christmas is coming, and I'm getting fat. It's a conundrum. One I don't know the answer to yet. What is my intention? I've a feeling I won't achieve it unless I know for sure.

*I know, you didn't think I was into rap music... well I'm not really, but I'm kind of fascinated by the stories they tell and the way it's a sort of contemporary poetry... this interview is worth a listen... his intelligence and sensitivity is quite something.

pushing the narrative

I'm not too sure what the phrase 'pushing the narrative' actually means but Lucy used it here and I rather like it. What I would like it to mean is... hello... this post has been a long time coming, partly because of the flu but partly because of the after-effects of the flu, which have not been at all creative but have been about tidying and cleaning, drinking tea, collecting firewood, welcoming autumn and spending time with this little person who is delightfully new to cold weather and warm fires and going to sleep on her own...

...and because I never wanted this to be a happy housework blog or a what-I-had-for-lunch blog or a beautiful baby blog, there hasn't been much to blog about at all.

What is more interesting is all the thinking and reading and slowness that's been happening... I have started a new soft blue scarf for the winter with five balls of cashmerino astrakhan that I had been saving. It's very plain but the yarn sort of needs that, and I'll do a scallop edge all round when it's finished. It's nice and easy but there is pleasure in that, in just enjoying the soft colour of the wool and the in-and-out, in-and-out.

One of the many books I read was Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry... I was rather disappointed with this, as I loved Time Traveller's Wife, so much so that I wouldn't go to see the film, knowing it would spoil it. But this one didn't work for me... the different strands of plot didn't knit together well, the characters were rather unloveable and I kept stumbling on editorial errors... they do say that second novels are the most difficult, so here's hoping for her third..

I am still working on the linen hearts and have a pile unfinished that need attention very soon. A new embroidered bag design is on its way, and I've planned a crochet extravaganza once the scarf and the dotty blanket is finished, that will use up all my odds and ends of lovely coloured yarn. When I make a start, I'll show you what I'm up to.

Now it's off to my newly tidied work table to embroider those poor naked hearts and put their buttons on...

on the mend

Many many thanks for all your good wishes - I am feeling quite a lot better and from time to time almost normal, although never for very long. One of the defining things about this flu is that you think you are greatly improved and then suddenly - wham - you are flat out in bed again sneezing wondering what on earth is going on.

Yesterday I managed a whole afternoon of feeling semi-alright, and forced myself to go into my workroom to cut out and make some linen hearts. I immediately found it both energising and settling, and so enjoyed the process of being creative again, which seemed to free up my thoughts a bit...

Roger Deakin talks about this rhythm in Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, which I have been consuming greedily this last week:

'Ruskin, leading his students off to dig a road outside Oxford to learn about hard work as the prerequsite of clear thinking... same goes for Morris - obsessed with working with the hands, with crafting and shaping things ... [Arthur] Miller had his workshop and furniture-making, and his barn-building and tree-planting.'

This has helped me to see the value of all making, how one thing feeds another, how thoughts develop and are processed as we do things with our hands.

it wasn't our fault...

How can beautiful, happy little piggies have anything to do with the atom bomb that has hit our household this week?

Our family has joined the thirty percent of Brits predicted to catch the dreaded swine flu... now that we have a baby in the house again it has brought it back to me how flu rips through a family like a tornado bringing maximum devastation... every room is full of half-empty glasses, blankets, tissues, discarded plates and cups, the curtains still drawn... the sound of coughing and sneezing everywhere... the boredom and backache of being in bed all day and all night... the abandoned piles of washing: the trip down to the cellar laundry room now too much for anyone to tackle... one snuffly little nose unable to sleep and wanting to play at 3.30am every night... tired mum and dad, grumpy grandparents... the triumph of managing a small task such as wiping the kitchen surfaces or stacking the dishwasher... lying awake at night worrying about more and more paperwork piling up (him)... a consignment of hearts and bags and decorations promised by the second week of November still unmade (me)... all my new threads still unwrapped and unused...

Slowly, slowly though, I think the tornado is losing its strength... hopefully it won't be long before we are back to good health again, meanwhile I am crocheting in bursts, reading loads (Monty Don, Crystal Renn, Roger Deakin, Rose Tremain), drinking lovely lemon-and-lime flavour This Water and watching the birds in the sunshine outside.

Hoping that you are still healthy and if not, 'solidarnosc'!

barely there

I am often drawn to places and things which are faded and worn away... perhaps by the sea, the wind, human touch, forgetfulness, or the passing of time.

I like the way time seems to move freely in and around the warp and weft of some places, or where it stands still altogether... places with a deep, rich history... voices drifting in and out of earshot.

The Wye Valley and Forest of Dean are full of such places: soft colours, faded paintwork, ancient whisperings.

We stayed close to the River Wye in a little cottage reached through a steep maze of roads and tracks, dipping down through ancient apple orchards and mixed woodland, down and down and down until it felt like we were almost underground, living like hobbits in the roots of the trees.

We walked back up the old, deeply sunken tracks to the village of Penallt where the old church showed us its treasures...

A carved wooded Madonna made from a single holly bole... very old and precious.

Ancient carvings in the great oak door...

Gravestones almost obscured by the slow beautiful growth of lichen so delicately and palely green that it could have come straight from the Farrow and Ball paint chart...

Angels guarding memories, voices, lives that were once solid and real...

On our return we passed a little chapel, derelict and empty... a 'SOLD' sign was hammered into the ground... we wondered about the people who were buying it and hoped they would respect its shabby wildness and whispering trees and not tidy it up too much...

On our long drive home we passed through the beautiful village of Newnham-on-Severn... the Romans forded the River Severn here and it was once an important medieval port. So much history here around every corner... this little offering was on an ancient track leading down to the old ferry... this was probably once the ferryman's cottage.

Just a taste of this lovely part of England... almost in Wales of course... Offa's Dyke passed close by our cottage. Everywhere are the signs of ancient activity, industry, transport and lives lived long ago. We enjoyed uncovering some of the stories and mysteries for a week, but now we are back it seems like another world... Maybe it is...

dark heart

Happily, I had a few hours to myself today to work on some new linen hearts. This dark brown one came later on in the afternoon, after I'd developed my old pattern and hopefully arrived at something a little more decorative and delicate:

It took me a while playing around with oddly shaped and brightly coloured prototypes to work out which job to do first, how to attach the ribbons and beads, which colour threads to use, and all those lovely playful, creative decisions. I'm pleased - these have turned out almost exactly as I saw them in my head and drew them in my sketchbook - always a happy outcome.

I did enjoy having a root through my button jars as well... always a soothing activity.

This is just a quick post as I'm off to collect my little granddaughter and then life always gets a bit hectic around teatime. In the next few days I'll show you some lovely pictures from our sunny holiday in the Wye Valley.

Don't forget there are still a few really cheap bargains going in the shop, so if you haven't ordered anything yet (and thank you to all who have) then why not pop along and see what's there.

a little rest

I have been feeling a little bit deaf recently... as if my hearing range has shrunk and the low, resonant notes, the high, delicate notes, have been tuned out. All I have been hearing is the flat, tinny thumping of life's main tune. The harmonies, the ornaments, the nuances are silent for me at the moment. An experience shared by most women, mothers and grandmothers at different times of life, I am certain.

Luckily we have a week's holiday coming up in the beautiful Wye Valley where I am hoping that my ears will open up to a fuller, richer music again. A week on the side of a wooded hill, walks by the river, evenings by the fire, days spent poking in bookshops, drinking tea and soaking up the early autumn sun. A week without teenagers or babies and their attendant laundry, mess and meals. Without hospital trips, waiting rooms or work. Without the builders next door, reality tv blaring out, arguments, shouting or dreadful so-called music on the car radio.

A lovely rest. I really need it.

new round pincushions added to the shop sale

Just a few things left now if you'd like an early autumn treat...

stock clearance sale!

Mouse is having a pre-Christmas stock clearance sale! There is 70% off absolutely everything so why not pop over to the shop and get a few bargains for your Christmas pressie drawer?

I've got a few new things in the pipeline and want to clear the decks ready for the new collection, so as they say on the telly, 'everything must go'! This means lots of lovely bargains for YOU dear reader... lovely cotton shopping bags, hand-embroidered decorations, gift tags... and nearly everything is under a fiver.

Go go go!

*I know this sounds like a sofa advert, but stock is really limited, so do hurry!

a gallery of roundness

I have been very excited to discover that you can curate your own gallery on Flickr using either your own photos or your favourites...

Don't laugh, because I am always one of the last to know about things. Anyway, it's really fun and I have collated an assortment of photographs of round things, go and look!

I can't wait to do another but for now it's bedtime after a very busy day...

Thursday: I've just finished another beautiful gallery, I think I love this one even more, it's called Fragile and there are some exquisite photographs there that will make you catch your breath - such talented photographers, thank you all!


"The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas" Edward de Bono


This weekend the garden is still. Leaves are fading to palest yellow, bees are buzzing in patches of intense, low golden light. Everything is soft, rich, slow, gentle, quiet.

We are tilting towards autumn but not yet there. Late summer bees and hoverflies, the heady smell of still-flowering phlox, bright patches of colour as faded petals are caught in shafts of sunlight. The robin chinks his alarm call and a charm of goldfinches twitter overhead.

The wind is in the south-east, soft and light but strong enough to direct the large transatlantic jets over us as they climb out of Manchester Airport - sometimes, in the harsh bright overhead light of summer, their shadows pass across the garden, but this weekend they slant away to the south through a faint haze.

Another warm, still, golden day on Sunday, driving across the sunlit Pennines to the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park to meet Helen of Cocoa and Blankets and her lovely family. We walked and walked and talked and talked. The men hit it off straightaway and forged ahead with the map, while we girls took a more leisurely pace better suited to civilised conversation.*

I am loving this last final stillness, a golden flourish before autumn blows in. The nights are getting chilly now, and soon it will be time for that bluey green driftwood fire I dream of...

Lastly, I couldn't resist showing you this photo of my beautiful granddaughter asleep on my shoulder this evening. Golden moments indeed.

*You can see more photos on Helen's much more interesting post which features naked wrestling...