medicinal chocolate has been necessary

It became vital to send out for industrial supplies of Fruit and Nut earlier on, as our household becomes cleaner, tidier, shinier and festooned with bunting, and I become more and more frazzled and wonder how everything is going to get done in time. The fridge is groaning with food and the oven is baking more and more and more quiches. Bottles are clinking and lining every empty surface, plates and cups and cutlery are being washed and polished, cushions plumped. The garden has been mowed and swept and raked.

I don't know what I was thinking when I agreed to host and cater for fifty-plus friends and family tomorrow, but then again it is a special birthday, one of these actually:

There's still masses to do, but I'm just having a quick tea-break before I go and start on the next round of chores and as I got my new camera yesterday and have been trying it out, I thought I'd post a few snaps of my new tidy and clean shelves...

Years and years of collecting, inheriting and acquiring have produced an eclectic assortment...

I shall be back with more news very soon but for now, it's back to the scary list...

i think that blackberries...

... are my favourite fruit.

Hares are my favourite animals.

My favourite colour is palest palest creamy green, the colour of small white butterflies and the inside of apples.

My favourite drink is tea.

golden treasure

Today at work we were cataloguing a collection of lovely books donated to the library. There are several first editions, some children's books, art and design titles and beautifully printed works like these Golden Cockerel fiction titles. I found it hard to resist having a good long look and couldn't help taking a few pics with my phone - but they are terrible quality - sorry. I did love them though. The faded paper jackets were lovely shades of blues, greens and buffs. I am especially fond of art and design from the mid-twentieth century.

Lady from Yesterday by Christopher Whitfield, illustrated with wood engravings by Lettice Sandford, Golden Cockerel Press 1939

On a practical note, you might find this post on copyright useful - it may prove to be the definitive guide and I will certainly be bookmarking it for future reference. Do follow up the link to find out what happened to Lauren Nassef if you haven't read about it already - it is really astonishing.

Goat Green by T.F. Powys, illustrated by Gwenda Morgan, Golden Cockerel Press 1937

Wishing you all a lovely weekend.

a different path

An overgrown path at beautiful Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire, taken a couple of years ago. We have visited this magical garden many times, but on this occasion the path had been edged with giant catmint... as you can see it was planted too close to the edge and had grown right across the soft old bricks, making it impossible to navigate. Hopefully you'll see why I chose the photo to illustrate this post...

I have been doing a lot of thinking, and the end result is that I have decided not to take a stall at any craft fairs this autumn. I have many ideas for new things to sell, lots of bags made up, and several bolts of fabrics ready to make new bags. But there is a big BUT... to pursue this path at this time would require a lot of time spent at the sewing machine, whizzing and whirring and getting a headache under the anglepoise lamp. The result would be lots of pretty things to offer for sale. But it would also, I have realised, be yet another thing that would hijack my true creative process and prevent me from following my plan to experiment with drawing, painting and fabric samples and developing my own significant, original art work. There is a definite clash between the two strands of work that I haven't yet been able to fuse together.

It is interesting how things, thoughts and actions lead us to other paths and beginnings and then may themselves become dormant or redundant...

The year I started this blog, I had a very strong need to rejoin the art and craft community after many years 'out', and my initial route in was through making shopping bags in pretty cotton fabrics - I saw a gap in the market, at least here in the north-west of England, and became energised by using my creative talents in this way. Five years ago I had a similar experience with hand-made cards, and interestingly, with both of these initiatives I have found myself trailing off for the same reason: although my ideas and products are good, I find that other people can make beautiful items as ethical, desirable, and well-made as mine and sell them for less.

In addition, the cards and bags have shown me that I don't enjoy long periods of repetitive work - I feel like I'm in my own personal sweatshop hell. I've no objection to working slowly on something with the radio on, but too much machining, folding and sticking, making hundreds of something, I find soul-destroying.

But more than that, I feel the need to quiet my inner entrepreneur, the bossy voice inside that is always having bright ideas about publicity and doing little sums on scraps of paper, turning every creative domestic endeavour into a shiny business plan. In truth, I frequently find this voice very alluring, but it completely drowns out the quiet, thoughtful voice that also speaks to me about experiments, questions, painting, drawing, poetry, shape, line and form, that travels with no particular destination in mind. This voice is soft and shy and quickly retreats when the other voice starts shouting.

But, I don't want it to be bullied anymore. I want to be brave and go forward in a different way, to resist the temptation to browse craft books or Flickr and funnel my creative energy into a watered-down version of what others are doing. I have this notion that I'll 'stamp my own personality' on basic shared ideas like bags or hanging hearts, but really I think all that happens is my own creative personality isn't fed and so wastes away.

This way is much harder, of course, for lots of reasons. I might sit in front of an empty piece of paper or cloth and not know what to do. I might have less to show here on the blog. It means I won't have very much income from my work, and that I may not receive as much affirmation for my work through sales and positive feedback. Yet, I suspect that ultimately this path may lead me to a place where I actually need less affirmation because I know that what I am doing is good.

Another path at Wollerton in a different part of the garden. Intriguing, inviting, leading to somewhere new...

a crochet heroine

I've just discovered the beautiful, beautiful work of the Parisian designer Sophie Digard. Gorgeous colours that are so desirable it's painful. I saw her work in this month's Country Living and almost wept with desire. On the Selvedge shop website you can see more, but the best range of her work can be seen on the Ped Shoes website, where these images are from, thank you Ped Shoes. They have a great zoom facility so you can see her exquisite crochet really close up, which is as close as I'm going to get unless I win the lottery.

She mostly makes these stunning scarves, but also a range of sweet necklaces from felted pompoms, you can see at least one here at Loop.

at the weekend...

...we went for a bike ride.

We set off down this disused railway in the warm sun, completely cocooned by the high banks which were like ski-slope meadows full of grasses, flowers, bees and butterflies. There was a wonderful warm, still silence except for the sound of our tyres and the buzzing of the insects.

After a few miles of lovely easy cycling and saying 'hello' to joggers, cycling families, roller-skiers and dog-walkers, we popped up onto a wide cobbled alleyway, passing little houses all tastefully painted and with beautifully kept but tiny gardens full of lush climbers. Then past bijou shops and delis, the best wholefood cooperative in the world, people sitting out on the pavement drinking good coffee and reading the Sunday papers, watching the world (and us) go by.

We made our way along wide, quiet roads, little back alleys and canal towpaths, over and under bridges large and small, marvelling at intricate, towering Victorian architecture, and stopping to feast on juicy blackberries.

After an hour or so of steady riding we found ourselves blinking at the sparkling light on a great expanse of clear water. Cormorants, gulls and herons fished for their lunch and we paused to marvel at the sheer size and scale of this major sea port, once the UK's fifth largest and busiest and thronging with people and activity, now a quiet haven for wildlife.

The boats here now are much smaller and their cargo is plants, flowers and the domestic clutter of those living inside.

Not everyone lives on boats though. Most people live in smart little houses clustered on the quays with an uninterrupted view of the water and all its comings and goings.

We wound our way along the waterside paths, ducking to avoid the low-hanging willows, swerving to miss the feet of the crowds watching the viking boat races, and slowing to read the stories, poems and reminiscences set into the pavement at the water's edge. As always, they gave me a huge lump in the throat, thinking of all the people affected by the life - and death - of these once-busy quays.

By this time we were ready for our lunch and a lovely cool drink. We locked up our bikes and found a table in the sun overlooking some sparkly, spanking new architecture and watching the river traffic.

Chips were definitely called for, and after a leisurely scoff which probably replaced several-fold the calories we had burned off on the way, we set off again on our return journey. Across the smart new pedestrian bridge and into the wide, light, leafy avenues of the world's first planned industrial estate, supported and served by the busy docks and now clean and gleaming, boasting an ecology park and diverse wildlife as well as the sleek modern factories that make bread, breakfast cornflakes, and many of the goods you see on your supermarket shelves. It has a really fascinating history* if you are interested to learn more.

It wasn't long though before we were heading off through bushes and trees and bumbling along in the peace and tranquility of a canal towpath again, looping over humpbacked bridges and skirting moorings and wharves, dodging fishermen and waving at beautiful old barges as they passed by.

After a while we turned eastwards on the final stretch of the ride, but we still had several bumpy miles to go high up on the banks of a fast-flowing river, overlooking beautiful woods, fields and watermeadows.

This is an important wildlife habitat - but not only that, the subtle, soft, late-summer colours were utterly gorgeous

On the river it was busier and people were enjoying the summer sun, lazing in pub gardens, strolling, riding, stopping to read, and making the most of the current.

It wasn't long before we turned away from the riverbank and started off zigzagging through quiet streets and parks to complete our journey - but not before I'd managed to rip my leg to shreds on the pedal and ride smack into a garden fence! No day out with me is without incident, I'm afraid.

Now then, to misquote dear old Rolf Harris, 'can you tell where it is yet?' I know that most of you will have guessed already, and it's not hard since you probably all know where I live... but I am hoping that a few of you will have 'discovered' some secret parts of Manchester that you didn't know before, and perhaps be surprised to find that the world's first industrial city is really quite a nice place now! We saw so much on our ride that we hadn't seen before and so much wildlife and beauty, although we were never more than five miles from the city centre. We often find new and surprising things to see and do, which is pretty good considering that both of us have lived here or near here for our entire adult lives. We have some more bike rides planned in the near future so watch this space!

*Read more here if you like.

party time

My son said to me yesterday, 'You're always making bunting, aren't you?'

That may be a slight exaggeration, but it is true that I've always believed bunting makes a party seem more of an occasion. In our old house, we often used to have street parties and barbeques, and for these I made literally hundreds of yards of bunting in cheerful orange, yellow and blue, which we used to string from the lamp posts.

Bunting definitely creates different moods depending on the colours of fabric used and the size of the flags. For our wedding we had delicate loops of fragile white paper garlands, and for new arrivals I like to make a little string of baby-sized bunting...

...special birthdays need it too.

We're celebrating another special birthday in our household later this month, so I wanted to make some outdoor bunting to decorate the front of the house and the garden. This time, I took my inspiration from a favourite painting which used to hang in the bedroom of a friend's cottage, of a Cornish seaside town festooned with flags in faded patterns of red, white and blue which always seemed to pull me into the picture, to dance up and down the streets with the naively painted sailors in their clogs and Breton sweaters.

It's made the lazy way, just two triangles straight stitched together and machined onto a length of bias binding. I had a lot of fun selecting the fabric, some of which is decades old now, old Liberty dresses from jumble sale hauls years and years ago. I'm pleased with how it's turned out, a sort of faded brightness that perfectly suits our slightly wild garden.

Some of the pieces are cut from an old embroidered tablecloth that we inherited from the lady whose house we rented as students.

The central panel is of single flowers, so delicate and beautiful.

snowballing in summer

or, how an artist/housewife starts the day with good intentions but gets ambushed by stuff.

This morning I woke up thinking about my machine embroidery sampling and longing to get back to it after a busy family weekend. A friend had asked me for coffee first thing, and as she lives not too far away I planned to walk round and get some much-needed exercise, calculating that I'd be back by lunchtime and ready to start work.

Then, I remembered that we needed milk, bread and apples. Bother. There is no shop on the way to Clare's. But then I remembered my bike and my resolution to use it more! Hooray! I would go on the bike and make a detour to the shop and still be back by lunchtime because the bike is quicker.

BUT. When I got downstairs to the kitchen to make breakfast I quickly realised that a lot more eating had gone on during the weekend than I had thought. Not only bread, milk and apples, but orange juice, coffee, bananas, ham... pretty soon I had a shopping list that was falling off the back of the envelope, and far too much to carry on my bike.

Double bother, because this meant going in the car, which meant forsaking my exercise, unless I went to Clare's first and then came back and got in the car and went out again, but by this time it would be really late and eating into my sewing time.

So, reluctantly off I drove, for once remembering my mouse bags, had coffee, went to the supermarket, remembered even more things we needed, went through the whole performance of putting stuff into the trolley, getting it out, putting it in bags, putting them in the trolley, getting them out again and into the car, getting them out of the car and into the house. You know the drill.

Quick! Unpack, put away, make a cup of tea and a sandwich and off upstairs to my artroom.

BUT. When I went to put the fridge stuff away it became clear that it was already far too full of mouldy leftovers to cope with the new arrivals, and when the mouldy leftovers had been removed it became clear that many other unidentifiable things were stuck to the back of the fridge with ice crystals and... yes, you've guessed, I had no option but to defrost the thing. Not only that, but when I went to throw away the horrible mouldy stuff, the basic hygiene of the undersink cupboard was called forcefully into question and a thorough clearout and disinfecting programme became necessary.

By the time all this had been got through, it was mid-afternoon, I was suffering from an ugly blood-sugar crash, two people had left messages on the answerphone which needed a response, and a Big Problem had occurred in the lives of certain teenagers related to me which only I, apparently, could solve, and oh by the way, could they have a lift?

Excuse me a minute...


That's better.

I did make a start on the embroidery, but now of course I'm all cross and bothered and not at all in the calm, creative place. Maybe I need to start again tomorrow... but, horrors, what might happen then???

Exploring the edges where colours meet each other... hopefully more of this tomorrow :-)