all that is past...

Another year has come to its end. In my mind I have always visualised each passing year in a sort of linear, tabular form... so that as one year ends, the eye of my mind is required to forcibly lift itself up from the bottom right hand corner, where the December days are dark and worn, and move up, along and over, to the top left, to January: to a place of gradually increasing light... a new page, a clean beginning, a fresh start. This year, I am so ready for that new page. It has been a challenging and frustrating twelve months. Pleasures and achievements have been small but intense... some of them are illustrated here.

My wish for us all this new year is light, laughter, peace, happy memories, creativity, fun, health, good times, lovely surprises, warm weather, and friendship. All the way through to the end.

here there is peace, and a short while for dreaming...

The snow has wrought a silence and a stillness which at first seems to sit uneasily with this busy time of preparation and creativity. There are cards and gifts to be delivered, supplies to be bought, errands to run, yet the ground outside is as uncompromisingly hard as iron and cold as ice. The freezing weather is its own master, and now ours too. Jobs must wait. Excess is stripped away. Everything is pared down to an essential skeleton. I rather like this, but then again, I am not spending my nights on an airport trolley, or waiting anxiously for the return of loved ones.

The weather brings a surprising mix of the necessary and the unexpected. For me, this afternoon, an unplanned but very welcome time of peace and quiet alone with the scent of the Christmas tree and a log fire, full of thankfulness for a mended boiler and for the hot water and warmth that it brings. Lemon-and-orange curd cooling in the kitchen, and jobs done, as far as I am able. Time to think and reflect and to wait expectantly for the winter solstice: deep in the freezing darkness of tomorrow night, when at last the earth will begin to turn and move towards the sun once more, and every day will be a few minutes longer than the last.

The craft market on Saturday was echoingly quiet, the snow keeping everyone at home. It was disappointing, but I have made sufficient sales this winter to fund my art materials for next year, which was my goal, and it is too easy to become greedy. I have a few items left over, however, so if anybody wants to buy a box of the paper and stitch bunting or a string of little linen birds, let me know, although I won't be able to get them to you for Christmas. The bunting is £8 and the birds are £14 which includes P&P to the UK.


I have been so amazed and inspired today by this article, I can't stop thinking about it. I can't get this out of my head either: if all of us who have enough gave something to those who haven't, we would only need to give 1% of our incomes to completely eradicate poverty.

be quick...

...if you'd like to buy anything from the winter shop as it will be closing at the weekend for this year. It may be back next year, I'm not sure yet, we'll see. There are still a very few bags, Christmas wreaths, organic cotton washcloths, and these chocolate brown linen hearts, finished off with a vintage button and a tiny string of beads. Postage and packing remains free to the UK. Many thanks to all who have bought from the shop already and for all your lovely compliments and great feedback! Shop link here.

recycled toast

I love the Toast catalogue, but it is too expensive for me and anyway, as I am not seven stone I fear I would look like an overdressed shepherd if I wore any of their clothes. However, it is lovely quality paper with gorgeous colour and detail, so I decided to cut it up and make Christmas garlands with it.

First of all I stuck gold paper to the reverse, then I stamped out hundreds of little scalloped rounds... a bit like making paper mince pies... then I made them into little piles and whizzed them into a long length with metallic thread on the sewing machine. A few minutes spent fanning them out into little globes and the beautiful paper is visible again and they look absolutely gorgeous. It's hard to show how lovely they are on a photograph but the rich colours with the gold accents remind me of Renaissance paintings. I'll be offering these for sale at my last craft market of the season (see below for details).

Next to be sacrificed was my carefully saved pile of Plumo catalogues, which underwent a similar treatment but these ones I have made into single hemispheres for this year's Christmas cards... simple little Christmas trees with surprise fold-out stars on top.

If you are in Manchester on the weekend of the 18th/19th December, please come along to the Whitworth Art Gallery Christmas Craft Market! I'll be there and so will lots of other makers and artists with lots of lovely things to see and buy. I have heard stories about carols and mince pies too...

new things in the shop

There are a few new things in the shop today - market bags in beautiful, washable, soft green and white cotton, handpainted christmas decorations, and garlands made of vintage sheet music...

The decorations and garlands come in cellophane bags and are perfect for popping in with a Christmas card for a little extra gift.

There are still a few everlasting wreaths, sturdy hand-embroidered denim bags, pure organic hand-crocheted facecloths and embroided linen hearts to buy too, but hurry as stocks are thinning out. Don't forget that postage and packing remains free to anywhere in the world!

Shop link here.

a very special hankie

If you are a properly trained museums, libraries and archives person, it's probably best to look away now, as this morning I have been having a lovely time playing at textile conservation, and I'm quite certain that I haven't done anything 'by the book' at all.

This souvenir handkerchief was produced in 1894 to commemorate the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, and it needed to be mounted and displayed for an exhibition that we are doing here at work.

Ever since visiting the Textile Conservation Centre in Hampton Court as part of my degree course over twenty years ago, I have harboured a secret desire to become a textile conservator, so it was all play and no work to bring in my needles and thread this morning, having been tasked with the job of mounting it on a backing board ready to be sent to the framers. I was very worried about not using archival quality materials or doing something irreversibly dreadful, but after a bit of self-education online, some careful preparation and a lot of teeny weeny stitches, I think that in the end it was a fairly credible effort. I thoroughly enjoyed myself anyway.

apples and mistletoe

Yesterday we returned from a winter weekend in Herefordshire which was spent mostly underneath a blanket of cold fog. It was a time for roaring fires, mulled apple juice and some time looking inwards.

I love the slow disintegration and sparseness of this time of year. At Croft Castle we saw apple trees pruned hard, their branches reduced to gnarled stumps, yet still bearing rough-skinned, golden eating apples with soft sweet flesh. We picked a bag of fresh windfall walnuts, their green cases leaking deep brown dye onto our fingers.

Mistletoe is everywhere in Herefordshire. I love its bare shape, the palest creamy green colour of the berries and its ancient magic and symbolism. It grows in the most perfect balls like ethereal baubles high up in the trees.

Or sometimes low down in the trees, low enough to kiss under.

Piles of prunings surrounded the orchard trees. This is a time for trimming, tidying and sweeping and then leaving things alone to rest quietly for the short cold days and long dark nights.

This is the cottage we stayed in for the first part of our honeymoon in June 2007. It was the wettest summer in living memory and like many others in the country we were flooded out and forced to relocate. You can see pictures from that summer here.

These apples were waiting to be pressed for cider, although they did look a bit grubby. But I expect that all adds flavour. Their sweet heady smell in the fresh afternoon air was wonderful.

One of the things I read while we were away was this astonishing article about the painter Sargy Mann. It is a remarkable tribute to the human spirit and the force of creativity and I found it a tremendous inspiration.

the winter shop is open!

Many of you have very kindly asked if I will be selling online this year, and I'm pleased to say that the answer is a resounding 'yes!' The shop is now nicely stocked with goodies and will stay open for the next four weeks. The first ten orders will receive a little packet of twenty-four advent gift tags (as seen above and below) completely free, so it may be worth your while ordering early if you are the sort of person who might wrap up little presents for your family (or yourself) to find and open in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas. Not only that, but there is FREE postage and packing to anywhere in the world for the duration of the opening.

Thank you also to all those who wished me well for the craft market yesterday. It went fairly well and I managed to survive both the jolly skiffle band and the lack of tea with creditable stoicism. However, I do think, for what its worth and in case there are any event organisers reading this, that on the whole craft and vintage don't make a good business mix. Vintage-seekers love a good bargain, and that's not necessarily the right frame of mind for buying handmade quality craft items which are often a person's livelihood and deserve to attract their true value.

Anyway, do please visit the shop and see if anything takes your fancy. Only five-and-a-half weeks to Christmas, and did I mention that postage and packing is FREE?! (That's shipping to non-UK readers. Free shipping! FREE!)

suffolk puffs

I won't tell you what my husband said when I mentioned Suffolk Puffs, but if you know anything about the inclinations of East Anglian-dwelling mid-century English composers and their mellow-voiced companions, you'll be nearly there. It was all in the best possible taste, of course - we are big fans in this household. *

I made this to wear tomorrow at my first market of the season, as I was suddenly seized by a compulsion to wear a tiny splash of red together with my new red lipstick. I'm a firm believer in following these sorts of urges and so in between packing stock into boxes and eating supper, this got made. Suffolk Puffs have been on my mind recently, as a tutor on my degree course is retiring, and her ex-students have been asked to each contribute a puff for a presentation piece for her. The Liberty fabric I have used for Isabel's puff and this little flower is actually a piece of the dress I wore to my Embroidery degree show twenty-two years ago in 1988 - now sadly a wee bit tight around the middle! I pulled up the puffs tightly five times around the centre to create the stubby little petals.

Everything is finally ready for an early start in the morning and I'm currently in that strange kind of adrenalin-fuelled yet foggily tired state that follows several days of intense creativity and preparation. It's the same way that I feel late on Christmas Eve. I've no idea what to expect from the market, but I am hoping that people will have at least a few pounds in their purses to spend on pretty things despite the recession.

I did take some photos of everything but poor light and camera shake rendered them all useless. Hopefully there'll be a moment to take a few snaps tomorrow. I know some of you are hoping to come along - I'm really looking forward to seeing you there!

*If you have the faintest idea of what I am on about and would like to see one of my favourite all-time clips, click here. Sheer class.

winter market dates

I definitely have a problem with piles at the moment... piles of music garlands, poetry snowflakes, little golden crocheted snowflakes, tree decorations, bags, everlasting spruce wreaths, ribbon, tissue, card, labels... on the table, on the floor, on the ironing board, on the chairs, windowsills, shelves and on top of still more piles of fabric, magazines and boxes... all these are gathering together in my artroom for last-minute assembly and packing up.

I'm really pleased to say that I have been accepted for two winter craft markets in South Manchester this year, as well as having the opportunity to present a selection of gifts and pretty things for sale at my friend Anne's gardening classes. I'm really hoping that these wintry offerings will sell well and help to fund art and craft materials over the next year. I would absolutely love to see you if you live nearby and are able to come to either of the markets... details are below.

Finders Keepers Craft and Vintage Fair

Sunday November 14th 10am-4pm
The Moor Suite
35 Heaton Moor Road
Heaton Moor

Christmas Craft Fair
Saturday 18th December (all day - times to be announced)
Whitworth Art Gallery
Wilmslow Road

a few early snowflakes

These little snowflake decorations are made from cardboard and gesso, given two coats of Farrow and Ball emulsion from my stash of tester pots and then handpainted. They will eventually have silvery gold thread but I wanted to share the colours I have chosen this year, although it is difficult to represent these accurately.

I have spent a lot of time this month refining ideas and introducing a more delicate feel and subtle palette, which is what I felt was lacking from several of the items I produced a couple of years ago. I have enjoyed the sense of creating a collection which looks good as a whole and in which the different products complement one another, as well as being attractive individually.

All of these will be on sale at the winter craft markets I plan to do in the next couple of months, and many will be available in the online shop as a one-off, seasonal event. This is something I may revisit in future years as I like the idea of a winter shop window which then allows me to involve myself in other artistic pursuits over the rest of the year.

This is a close-up of my poetry snowflake garlands which have been fun to make and look gorgeous catching the evening sun. All of these early snow flutters are making me expectant for winter and Christmas!

little silvery mysteries

This mysterious little signpost reminded me of something the Famous Five might have come across on one of their Cornish adventures (the proper, line-drawn, hardback Famous Five that is, not modern TV parodies or any of their horrible politically correct manifestations).

We found it yesterday on one of the nicest walks ever, in one of our favourite places ever, a beautiful, perfect little corner of England that must have every geographical feature on the map: coast, coves, cliffs, marshes, lakes, little woods and fields, churches, pubs, shops, gorgeous gorgeous houses, and nearly every bird and mammal in the book too. It's exactly an hour away in the car (if I am the passenger rather than the driver) and sooooo good for the soul.

The Famous Five would have been useful to help solve the puzzle of this little ticket which we found on the floor of the tearoom where we enjoyed a pot of reviving tea... perhaps dropped by Runner Number Six him-or-herself. But with no other clues to be seen, we couldn't guess where, how or when he or she might have been racing...

I wish I could have shown you a photograph of the huge silvery moon that rose above the horizon on the journey home like a big old coin in the hand of a kindly grandparent. Its magic was palpable.

taking liberties

A productive morning today, and a little break now for a much needed cuppa and a think. I have taken a day off work this week to give me a run of four days to work on new things for the winter craft markets I am hoping to do, although watch this space for a post on why I am never going to do this again!

This little paisley design is for a new version of the heavy cotton 'everyday' bags that sold so well two years ago. Last time they had a lot of hand embroidery which isn't practical for me to finish in the time I have available this year, and of course it is difficult to charge what the item is worth in terms of labour - a perennial problem for all makers of handmade things. So I've cut a design from a scrap of Liberty fabric backed with fusible webbing (which I still call Bondina) and added a few stitches on top. I'm not quite happy with the handstitch, so this afternoon I plan to play with a little machine stitch and see what happens.

do you see what I see?

Well yes, you do, because this is exactly what I saw this morning, as I sat at my kitchen table drinking a mug of tea. One of those little moments during a sunny golden day in the middle of October when everything is quiet and nothing moves except for the chirrup of birds outside in the trees and the occasional leaf meandering down to the ground. A moment of nothing much, yet contained within that moment is everything that is good and happy.

Recently my head has been strangely empty, as if its contents had been siphoned out and swished around a bit. That's ok. Sometimes when days are full of busyness there isn't much time for thinking. Despite this, I sense a sort of shape-shifting activity, as if when my thoughts find form again, they will reflect a different perspective. I hope so.

woven scraps

I found this amazingly beautiful piece of Chinese woven paper at work today. It is pasted into a scrapbook of notes and sketches by Thomas Barritt (1743-1820) who worked as a saddlemaker and was also a hugely keen local historian, collecting thousands of objects and manuscripts and making volumes of notes over his lifetime. I love this little scrap, which must almost certainly date from before 1800. If you click on the image, and then click again, you can see the lovely handcoloured paper and the incredible amount of work which has gone into creating the image. Whether it is a part of some larger design I cannot say, but would love to know.

Here in Manchester it is another wet, wet day. The rain is bouncing down and the skies are grey. We have had one or two golden, sunny days this week but otherwise this has been our weather for quite some time now. It is not good for the spirits, but other things are: I have been making - and eating - the famous chilli jam that everyone's been talking about, enjoying the first fires of autumn and ordering - and impatiently waiting for - this beautiful book that was reviewed in the Guardian at the weekend. I'm looking forward to enjoying all three this coming weekend.

the evolution of fish

Today a strange hedgehog-fish creature has been going round and round in my washing machine, testing to see how various felted wools bond together and what sort of shapes can be achieved. In the grand Darwinian scheme of things my little hogfish is still rather unevolved, but while he was spinning I was making sketches, and so tomorrow he may take a step forwards... we shall see.

These delightful handcoloured engravings are from a rather strange and wonderful nature book that we have at work. I thought you might like to see.

an interesting life

"If you make happiness your goal, then you're not going to get to it. The goal should be an interesting life."

So says Dorothy Rowe in a recent Guardian article, and I think she is right. I know that when I start aiming for happiness, I flounder and begin to resent intrusions. When I search out things that I find interesting, or simply wait for them to appear, then I begin to expand and possibilities open up like a fan.

'I will have an interesting day today' allows for endless permutations. I like that.

a windy day is not a day for thatching

Autumn is blowing in. Today we have gusts of forty miles an hour - I love the sound of the wind whooshing through the tall trees which surround our house - a mixture of wild danger and the comfort of being indoors.

I do love this time of year - but then again, I love every time of year - however, this time of golden change, fruitfulness, laugh-out-loud windiness and the whirligig dancing of leaves seems so full of possibility and excitement. Whether it's the association with the fresh start of a new year at school, or memories of coming to Manchester to start my degree course, or the fact that every house I've moved to has been in the autumn, I don't know. But for me, things begin in September.

northern light

Last week we spent five beautiful days in Denmark and one in Sweden. Now, I love Britain with all my heart, mind and soul, but Scandinavia constantly, patiently, gently, whispers for my attention. I have felt a deep connection with these northern lands since I first visited thirty years ago, and art, music, design, literature and personal connection continue to keep me in thrall.

The first things that overwhelmed me were the light and the colour. The light is not bright, but it is everywhere, it seems to radiate up from the street and pour from cracks in the pavement. It was raining nearly the whole time we were there, but still there was this soft, beautiful light. It finally dawned on me that it must come from the sea: Denmark is made up of hundreds and hundreds of islands, completely surrounded by sea, and is only ever gently undulating... no hills or valleys to catch or block the light. It is sea-light. And the colours... the colours are the colours of the sea, the sky and the shore... soft grey-blues, dove grey, softest pinky grey, taupe, charcoal, white blonde, ash, and white... so much white... beautiful white, full of every colour of light that exists. So monochromatic that even barely pigmented colour sings, but gently, softly, liltingly. I was in a personal heaven.

The next thing that took hold of me and pulled me inside out and back-to-front and practically left me breathless with longing and wonder was the innate sense of style that permeates from every door, window, garden, shop front and item of clothing. I felt like I had come ashore in a dream, stepped into a favourite magazine or fallen into the pages of a beloved book. It felt like me.

Personal style and interior decoration are the same in Scandinavia: natural, neutral, simple and soft, a mixture of beauty, comfort and practicality. All those lovely, muted, understated colours, exquisite attention to detail, respect for old buildings, warmth, light and a sense of calm. Simplicity. A sense of balance. No clutter, no chaos. And light.

Windows to exclaim over as you explore the pretty little streets: bowls of orchids, tiny succulents, my favourite houseplant known in Denmark as 'spots-in-the-air', little displays of collected treasures. Front doors which nearly always have welcoming green plants climbing up custom-built cast-iron supports. Elegance and simplicity.

Gardens, whether large or small, public or private, that have a real, tangible, sense of place. Open space with simple stone and evergreens. Nothing contrived or fussy. Sedums and succulents in carefully placed pots. And always somewhere to sit: everybody stays outdoors for as long as they can in the summer. Absolutely everyone has a very large square umbrella or awning so that they can still sit out if it's raining.

Loveliness and comfort in fresh, clear, wholesome things: dill, clear glass, aquavit, white, linen, lit candles, the sea, ryebread. Everything seemed to be done well, to somehow embody peace and purity, from the pouring of a glass of beer to elegant town planning and appreciation for historic buildings, to a properly integrated, modern transport system that runs to time.

Oh, and the sea. Did I mention the sea?

This last photo was taken at possibly one of the most breathtakingly lovely art galleries I have ever been to, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art just south of where we were staying in Helsingør. I spent nearly the whole time here in deep, happy tears, an almost spiritual experience of connection to the sea and the intensity of art, watching the misty grey-blue sea lapping at the shoreline as an Alexander Calder mobile sculpture flipped back and forwards in the breeze of an offshore storm.

Does all this make me sound a bit dippy? Because, it's probably time to own up that actually, I am.

a visit from the airy fairies

I have some very exciting news - I have become a cupcake tester! I feel I have been working up to this position most of my life and am exceptionally well qualified for the post, having sampled many thousands of cakes and cupcakes over the years.

Imagine my excitement this morning when there was a knock at the door and a gorgeous box of four beautiful cupcakes was delivered by one of the Airy Fairies herself!

Aren't they pretty?

I feel I have found my vocation in life.