I've been tagged by Elizabeth to join in with a meme, which is fun. I've never done one before, and have enjoyed thinking up answers to the questions while I've weeded the garden today! I know this isn't everybody's sort of thing, but it's been nice to participate, and if nothing else, at least it gives a bit of structure to my ramblings...

The rules are to answer the questions, replacing one and adding another, and then to tag eight other bloggers to do the same.

First the questions:

What are your current obsessions?

I am someone who can swing from being madly obsessed to completely vacant in next to no time. I use up huge amounts of energy going into overdrive and then have to recover by letting my mind go blank. At the moment I am in a period of restorative calm.

What are you currently reading?

Everything. I read all the time, always have done, can't stop. I have something to read all over the house: cookery books, gardening books, home and interiors magazines, novels, books about landscape, artist's biographies, the weekend papers (I make them last all week), maps (I love maps), old children's books. I will very happily read the dictionary.

What makes you laugh?

My work colleagues. We laugh so much at work sometimes that my tummy hurts. I am often choking with laughter and so paralytic I can't work. I can't tell you what about, as it is often very rude indeed.

What is your first spring thing?

I get excited when I see green shoots peeping out of the ground and the blackbird starts to sing again, but for me the biggest indication of spring is the increasing light. I am always commenting on how light it is in the mornings and evenings, and when the clocks go forward, it's always wonderful.

What's for dinner?

I'd planned to make a quiche, but I'd been gardening all day and in the end it was tins of baked beans with little sausages in. Yum.

Where do you plan to travel to next?

We have ten days in Sussex coming up in June, which I'm hugely excited about. We plan to visit lots of gardens and lovely places and eat as many cream teas as we can. For several years now I have wanted to return to Finland, a beautiful and magical place I fell in love with aged 15.

What's the best thing you ate or drank lately?

My eldest son recently went on a week-long course on how to make cocktails and to allow him to practice his new-found skills we have selflessly offered our services as cocktail testers... each evening we have something new... we have had Mohitos, Cosmopolitans, Daiquiris, Elderflower Collins, all beautifully made and garnished.

The last thing you bought?

That damn bag (see below).

Flower of the moment?

It would have to be bluebells. Our garden is full of them despite a policy of zero tolerance, due to their habit of flopping everywhere and withering after flowering. However, right now they are sublime.

Favourite ever film?

Like Elizabeth, I am rather a dunce at films. I almost never watch them, although I do like going to the Cornerhouse to see odd European things, eat mezze, and pretend I am still trendy. However, I have really really got into the Bourne trilogy and would happily watch them all again.

If you were a god or goddess which would you be?

I would be a dryad, or tree nymph. They are believed to be shy, strong, protective and gentle, and live in trees and forests. I love trees and am lucky enough to live in a house pretty much surrounded by them. I can count at least thirty different species from our windows. I was once what is sometimes described as 'tall and willowy', but as time has gone by my willow tree has settled down nicely into the riverbank and its trunk has rather more character and girth than before.

Care to share some wisdom?

Love bravely. Live gently. On days when it is hard to love someone who is close to you, pretend it is their birthday.

Where would you rather be right now?

By the sea, watching ships far out on the horizon, seeing the sun dance on the waves, smelling the salt, hearing the rush and grind of the waves on the beach, looking at birds, feeling the sand run through my fingers, collecting stones and driftwood.

Wake up! It's over, and now it's your turn. I've picked out some people whose blogs I visit or who visit me, but if you'd like to play, please do, and likewise if you'd rather languish in a bath of frogs, please pass.

Viv, Gilly, Susie, Jo, Ness, Helen, Ann and Tina are tagged...

when beautiful is ugly

I bought a new bag today! Here it is.

Take a good look at it. Observe the lovely printed cotton, good quality and strong. I just love that sweet 1930s style print.

It's got a smart magnetic fastener and the edge is prettily self-faced to look good from all angles.

The finishing is nicely done, wth neat double stitching around the top edge, which is a lovely curvy shape.

The mitred bottom is sturdy and well-made, and looks great too.

Even the inside seams have been bound with a tough cotton/synthetic mix fabric to stop them splitting or pulling.

In short, a good deal of work has gone into the making of this lovely bag, from the weaving and printing of that gorgeous sunny fabric, to the cutting, piecing, stitching and making up. Not forgetting, either, the work of the designers who worked on the pattern for the fabric and chose the colours, and thought up those lovely curves and double stitching.

Now then, let's see if you can guess what I paid for it. Being a maker of bags myself, I know that it would take me probably about an hour to make a bag like this. There's about a half metre of fabric in it, plus the thread and notions. I'm not quite sure what this fabric would cost to buy wholesale, but it's lovely quality and I certainly wouldn't be able to get it for less than about £5 a metre if I was very, very lucky. If I sold it for £10 I might cover the materials and my time, but I wouldn't make any profit. And that's assuming I got the fabric at a significant discount.

Tesco were selling this bag today for £2.50.

I find it difficult to express how angry I feel about this. The bag, as you might expect, is made in China. This means it's also had to be brought halfway across the world on a container ship, burning fuel and polluting the oceans. Not to mention the badly paid workers who've slaved away at it, working long hours on heavy machinery to make something that cost me less than my bag of breakfast muesli.

I don't just feel angry for those exploited Chinese workers, either. I feel angry for myself, for all of us who make things by hand, ethically and well, with love and dedication, caring about where we buy our fabric, how we produce and package things, how much we throw away afterwards. How on earth can we compete with a price like this for a product that is worth four, five or six times as much?

I would be proud to have made this bag. I love the fabric and it's a well-designed shape, which, I'm afraid, makes me still more suspicious. I will be careful what I say here, but last week a highly esteemed designer and craft blogger posted about how one of her own distinctive pieces had been copied outright and mass-produced by a British supermarket chain this Easter. We were all shocked and outraged. It would not surprise me in the least if this sweetly designed bag had been copied in a similar way.

Well, what can we do about this? Stop shopping at Tesco? I'd like to do so, but I'm human, they are less than a mile away, and I am not rich. Even if we are able to make that choice personally, they remain our competitors. Apart from one or two members of my family, nobody has bought one of my bags as a simple act of generosity. None of us has money to throw away. We make positive choices when we can, but when nice bags are offered at cut-down prices, people will buy them.

I don't have any answers to offer, just a lot of confusion and anger and frustration and a huge sense of injustice and helplessness. And I haven't decided what to do with that bag yet...

know thyself

Flushed with the fairly recent success of my dotty crochet blanket, I rashly offered to produce something similar for my son's soon-to-be-born baby.

However, when deciding on a pattern, I stupidly overlooked some rather basic self-knowledge:

1. I get bored easily.

2. I like things to grow fast.

3. I like using different colours.

4. I like to spread small squares out on the floor and move them around whilst having a cup of tea and imagining what the whole thing will soon look like.

5. Variety is the spice of life.

Having ignored all of this, and despite having put in several hours work already, I find myself less than eight inches into a single-colour, one-piece baby blanket in dreary old double crochet*, the slowest stitch possible. I am now thoroughly bored of lime green, and I have arm ache.

In addition, the baby is due in only four days.

There are no prizes for guessing
a) What I am doing all day
b) What the moral of this post is.

*This means single crochet to all North American hookers.

a special treat

Whoop! No proper work this morning. Instead, a trip on the train to visit the wonderful Incline Press in Oldham, owned by Graham and Kathy, old friends of Chetham's.

I almost can't tell you how much I loved this place. From the moment we ducked through the front door into a room crammed from floor to ceiling with stacks of paper, ink, printing machinery, sheets of decorative paper hanging up to dry, books, cases of type, stores of equipment and smelling of linseed oil I was quivering with excitement.

As it wasn't brilliantly lit my photos didn't come out too well but hopefully they go some way to conveying the utter wondrousness of this amazing three-storey warren of creativity and craftsmanship.

The main work of the press takes place on the ground floor and the basement of a small 1820s cotton mill. There are several different workstations for the various stages of the process, and every single surface and wall is filled with boxes, drawers and shelves full of materials and equipment. Where there is any space left, posters, flyers, sheets of typefaces and other examples of letterpress are displayed in frames or just pinned to the end of a bookcase or shelf.

First of all we were shown the bindery, where pages of printed material are gathered, stitched and bound into their beautiful collectors' items. I completely fell in love with the neat, organised stashes of clean, folded paper and card, and would have been happy just to stay there and stroke it, but we were moving on to look at the typesetting area, where pages of print are set by hand, and intriguing paper parcels of new typefaces awaited unpacking.

Our time here was far too short for me. Next we were climbing the wooden stairs to the printing area to see how the presses worked. Tentatively using the treadle, I was shown how to ink the press and produce a real piece of letterpress printing. I had expected it to be heavy, clunky and hard work, but was surprised to find it light, smooth, slick and amazingly fast once you got the knack.

My eyes still darting around madly, desperately trying to take everything in and remember it, we were taken upstairs to the colourful and cosy living space on the top floor, looking out over the 'guerilla gardening' that Graham and Kathy have begun in the municipal green space below. Lovely deep red walls, original art, colourful teapots and rugs, and walls and walls of beautiful books to look at - my head was swimming. Just everything was lovely and Graham even made his own marmalade - with letterpress-printed labels, of course. Whilst we drank tea we all pored over the beautiful work in Graham's latest bundle from the Letterpress Exchange Group which had arrived that morning.

Much, much too soon it was time to brave the bitter cold walk back to the station to catch the return train to Manchester, me clutching the little still-wet keepsakes that we had printed, sandwiched between sheets of newspaper and fluttering like mad in the wind. Calling out our thanks for the best Wednesday morning ever. Riding on the train in a happy, excited daze of remembered images and inspiration.

happy easter!

Hope you all are having fun with friends and family or enjoying solitary peace and quiet.

I have eaten quite a lot of chocolate and cooked two huge legs of lamb and a lemon tart.

feeling maundy

I always think it's a shame this word doesn't mean what it sounds like: unsettled, fidgetty, a bit grumpier than usual, wishing you could get into your pyjamas...

Let's use it this way anyway, shall we? I have certainly been feeling very maundy this week, although today, ironically, I have cheered up and as well as making some preparations for Easter I've been busy in my sketchbook.

For a long time now I've been as preoccupied with thinking about my work as I have with actually getting on with any. I've asked myself hundreds of questions and spent a lot of time seeking direction and inspiration. This is all good, but recently I've become restless and felt ready to start producing some more significant work again.

So this week I asked myself a new and more direct question:

'Very specifically, what body of work would you like to have produced by the end of this year?'

This is what I answered...
  • A collection of stitch samples (hand and machine) which are completely personal to me in terms of method, materials, technique, colour and overall feel. More particularly, I am aiming to find a quality of line that I like, ways of exploiting a limited range of stitches, simple materials, and the achievement of a graphic and painterly feel.
  • Similarly, I want to produce a series of paper samples which will improve the techniques and materials that I use in my drawing and painting. Working into and through different ways of making marks and textures until I feel totally comfortable with these techniques.
  • A drawing-a-day (at least) to get my observational drawing skills into shape again.
  • The production of some constructed pieces - cloth, paper, not sure yet - that feel personal and meaningful.
  • The development of my Mouse Accessories products to a point where I am happy that they sit comfortably alongside my more expressive work.
This, then, is what I'm going to be up to for the next few months. Creating a project for myself in this way should help to focus my mind and I'm hoping that the discipline will enable me to produce some meaningful work. It's a way of working that I found very productive during my time at art college, so I'm feeling optimistic.

making myself at home

We have lived in our house for three and a half years now, and today I sat on the back step in the sunshine and I thought 'I really love this place'. It has taken me this long to feel that way but without realising it, it has crept into my soul and it now feels like home, really home.

When I moved from my last house it was with a great sadness, which might seem strange when you know it was to move in with the lovely man who is now my husband, but nonetheless it's true.

It was architecturally nondescript, rather small, overlooked by everybody, and with hardly a tree in sight. Yet I loved it because it was full of happy memories of my children growing up, it felt safe and loved and comfy. When we left I missed it dreadfully for months and months.

Our current house is at the end of a no-through road, private and wild, large and beautiful with lovely architectural features, a big garden full of trees and birds and lots of room for everybody. But it's not in such a 'nice middle-class' area, and we have lots of noisy, chaotic students who leave rubbish and shopping trolleys for us to tidy up. It took me a long time to feel this place was familiar and safe. We worked hard to make it beautiful and home-like, but even then the emotions didn't follow obediently.

I guess it's about people, the passing of time, and creativity. Making a garden, watching it grow, eating with family and friends, laughing, crying, sewing and painting and spreading things out on the floor... over and over, gradually and slowly, a place feels like home.

I'm so glad the tide has slowly changed. Life continues to be complex and messy but it is wonderful to feel at peace in my space.

I took all these photos on Thursday in the lovely spring light. Everything is so green, it is quite magical.

hide and seek

The to-and-fro of comments and the community that grows up around us is one of the things that makes this blogging game so rewarding, I'm sure you'll agree. It's fun to make connections and get to know one another a little, and it's always good to be able to support new blogs and contribute to discussions.

I know that many of you choose not to get involved, preferring just to read what's on offer, and I have no problem with that at all. Quite often I'll do the same.

BUT! If you do comment, and I love it when you do, I like to be able to reply to you, and my preferred way of doing so is simply to click 'reply' to your message. It's quick, and more personal than making a general reply in the comments myself, although I sometimes like to do that too.

However, it's often not that easy to get back to you, and depending on your account settings, it can be downright impossible. Unless you set up your profile to allow access to your email, Blogger will default to the ubiquitous 'noreply-comment@blogger.com', which can make things hard work. If you don't have an email link on your profile page either, you're in danger of giving the Scarlet Pimpernel a run for his money.

I don't often give up without a fight and I'll usually get hold of you somehow to say 'hello and thank you', but let's make it easy. If you haven't done it yet, here's how:

Go to your Dashboard and click 'Edit your Profile'. Scroll down a bit to 'Identity' and fill in the box marked 'Email Address'. This means I can now reply directly to your comment. Hurray! Now, if you'd like to, add your email to your Profile Page. This means I can get in contact with you if I stumble across your blog one day. To do this, tick the box marked 'Show my Email Address' in the 'Privacy' tab. Finally, don't forget to save your changes!

If you don't fancy everyone knowing your email address - and why should you - it's easy and free to set up a separate email account with Google or whoever, and then just get everything forwarded to your main one so you don't have to keep logging on and checking it.

So if you've been feeling like billy-no-mates and wondering why nobody's getting in touch, check your account settings!

How on earth do you illustrate a post about blog settings? Why, with photos of last summer's holiday, of course. See more on Flickr.