Friday, 16 February 2018

Cakes, biscuits and cards

 I recently had a birthday (they do creep up rather quickly, I'm finding) and to celebrate, I did some baking to take to work.  One colleague is vegan and one is gluten free, so I had to make sure they were catered for. 
I made gooey, squidgy (extremely unhealthy, but delicious) gluten free chocolate brownies, with ground almonds instead of flour.
 Ginger biscuits with a swirl of icing are my go-to biscuits for my vegan friends. 
There was, of course, a chocolate cake (another go-to recipe) with chocolate buttercream icing and chopped up Twirls on the top.  This got lots of compliments, with one colleague saying it was the best chocolate cake they had ever tasted.  Praise indeed!
Of course, after receiving presents, there are the thank you cards to write.  I have just got a few more to do, but I decided to make them myself this year, so here are the first set.  Simple designs with die cuts and stamped sentiments.  I think the clean and simple (CAS) look suits my cards.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Yana and the Yeti - Pickled Image Theatre

photo from http://pickledimage.co.uk/yana/
Last Saturday, we went to a local theatre to see 'Yana and the Yeti' by Pickled Image.  It was advertised for 5+ years and there were quite a few children there.  It was a multi-layered story, focusing on friendship and acceptance.  While the children identified with the friends and bullying, there were other issues such as displacement which were more aimed towards adults.
The puppets were very engaging - Yana herself had blinking eyes and a movable mouth.  The puppeteers manipulated the puppets with mastery, care and precision and there was not one moment when the puppets weren't 'alive'.  When Yana went to sleep next to the Yeti (in the photo above), you could see them both breathing.
The backdrop was of a mountain filmed over twenty four hours and added to the whole magical ambiance of the piece.  The writers had created their own language for the performance, which had what sounded to be Scandinavian influences, but it was easy to follow.  The audience was invited to come and meet the puppets and their puppeteers after the performance and that was fascinating.
There is a short promotional film here about the performance which gives just a small flavour of the atmosphere and production.  It was a wonderful way to escape into a different world.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Suffragette and #Vote100

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst - photo from wikipedia
One hundred years ago today, women in England (over thirty years old, who met the criteria of owning property) were given the right to vote.  It was something to be celebrated, but it took another ten years for women to received the same voting rights as men.
I watched the recent-ish film 'Suffragette' starring Cary Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meryl Streep at the weekend and thought it did a good job of showing the difficulties that women (and the men who supported the Suffrage movement) underwent.   Some women were force fed in prison and there are some harrowing accounts here of the brutal treatment this was.

Every time I exercise my right to vote (and I always do), I am grateful to these amazing women who stood up to the government and made their voices heard.
There are many events all round the country as part of the #Vote100 campaign.
I hope that the many women all over the world who still need to make their voices heard can be inspired by the suffragettes.
Thank you to all of the women and their male supporters who enabled us to vote.
Edited to add: Channel 4 have created a thought provoking advert for the #Vote 100 campaign - the link to youtube is here

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Looking forward to Spring

I like looking at Winter - snow enveloping familiar landmarks and creating a quiet atmosphere, dark branches silhouetted against frosty blue skies, winter sunrises and sunsets - but I don't much like the cold.  This winter in particular, my hands have been suffering a lot thanks to Raynaud's Syndrome, which I have had since I was fourteen.  It is where extremities are ultra sensitive to temperature and the blood vessels constrict, cutting off circulation.  My fingers go white and numb and I then have to work at getting the circulation going again.  Irritating and sometimes painful, but not life threatening, I am pleased to say. 
I am always cheered by the sight of snowdrops and other winter flowering bulbs.  My snowdrops in the garden are starting to flower and are a sign that winter will soon be over.
 Cyclamen coum will be flowering next month, but the buds are preparing themselves.
 As I have mentioned before (just once or twice), snowdrops are one of my favourite flowers as their delicacy belies their inbuilt toughness.  They don't seem to be worried by the winter weather.
I noticed more signs of life with the tips of some crocuses just starting to show above the extremely soggy soil - you can tell that it has been very wet!
I always want to add more colour to the winter garden and decided that I needed this plant; 'Nandina Domestica Firepower', which is a small shrub with lovely autumn and winter leaf colour, and white flowers in Spring.  
I was sorry to hear on last week's 'Gardeners' Question Time' (Radio 4) that Chris Beardshaw does not like Nandinas and rather dismissed them.  I shall enjoy my little plant, which has already given me a lot of pleasure through the dull winter weather.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Cards and flowers

 I have been experimenting and making again.  I recently bought a very versatile stamp set - the poppy in the photo above, which has two layers and which creates a lovely hand painted look.  I think this is one I will use a lot.  As you can see, its first incarnation was as a thank you card.  I was really pleased with the results.
 My friend had a birthday, so out came a card making kit and this card was duly created.  I hope she liked it.
 I have also been playing with my Brusho paints again, trying to create loose watercolour flowers.  I watched a video on you tube and thought I could manage it, but as with so many things, it didn't quite work as I had hoped.  I stamped the flower centres and then pulled the paint and water out to create the petals.  This is what I was aiming for:
(image from Sandy Allnock's blog )
 Hmm, I'm not quite there yet!  Practise, practise, practise!  The nice thing is a that practising something like this is a rather enjoyable occupation in itself.  I may try different brushes to see if that might help.
I embossed the stamens on some of the flowers and liked the raised texture it gave.  I shall have another go and see what happens.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A new Hare-y bag

 I didn't manage to do a lot of crafting over Christmas, apart from the odd card, of course, but the one  thing I did make was a bag.   I needed a bag to carry all the stuff I take when I go for a break at work (id card, glasses, fruit, mug, tea bag, book or kindle - you get the idea!) as I usually manage to drop something on the way at least once.  I had loved the latest animal screens for the Screen Sensation kit, so I had to get the hare one as I do love hares (I shall also get the fox one when it is back in stock - they all sold out really quickly).  I used some blue and white material from my stash to screen print  (and the very detailed image printed beautifully) on one side and the other side was calico.  I lined the bag with floral material from my stash and added fusible wadding to give the bag some extra strength. 
The handles and edges were made from Chris' old jeans and will hopefully be hard wearing.  I can report that the bag works really well and so far, I have not dropped anything!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Stitching Santa 2017

I took part in Stitching Santa, organised by Sheila at Sewchet, which was a new blog exchange to me.  We were given a recipient's details and our details were given to someone else, so it was a big surprise to all of us.  My sender was Nikki from SewingNikki and she was so incredibly generous.  I have been so lucky with all the swaps/exchanges I have taken part in and it is lovely to know that there are so many kind and generous people out there in Blogland.  My parcel arrived and I had to leave it alone until Christmas Day.
 On opening it, there was a beautifully decorated box, adorned with all kinds of pretty ornaments.
Inside was tissue paper, held together with sewing related stickers. 
 Inside that, was a beautifully made bag and under that...
 ...was all this!  What a treasure trove of sewing goodness! Stickers, decorations, wool, a pack of material to make a cushion, an embroidery hoop, a pattern to make bags, a tape measure, some flowery organza type material and a jar of trimmings.
 I love the sheep fabric for the cushion - just gorgeous.
 Definitely an embarrassment of riches.
Wasn't I lucky?
This was what was in the jar - an array of trimmings and haberdashery (I love that word!).  A HUGE THANK YOU to Nikki for her amazing gifts, her generosity and kindness.  I love it all and will enjoy using it over the next year(s).
My recipient was Kimberley from Creative Chaos, who lives in New Zealand.  I had been partnered with her before, so had an idea of the things she liked. I have already shown the fabric box I made for her.
 Here are the other things I included: a felt heart with a pearl charm, some hot chocolate, some red and orange patterned cotton material, some gingham ribbon, a spoon rest/tea bag rest, a reel of sewing thread, some notelets (as I knew she liked stationery) and a little notebook as I also knew she would be starting a teaching degree at University and thought it might come in handy.
Here are the parcels ready to go. They arrived safely and I received a lovely thank you card with two little gifts from her.
It was a lovely swap/exchange to be involved with and I really enjoyed taking part.  Thanks to Sheila for the expert organising.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Happy New Year 2018

(Photos taken of the London fireworks last night/this morning from the TV - I was pleased with how they came out).
Happy New Year to all and I hope that in this unsettled world, 2018 will enable us to snatch some moments of joy and happiness.
 As has become somewhat traditional for me, today is the day I review my aims for 2017 and decide on aims for 2018.  So, what did I want to do last year?
  • Make more felt - I definitely achieved here.  I made a whole new set of heart decorations incorporating birthstone charms.  Even though they didn't sell, I was pleased with how they turned out.  I also started needle felting, making sheep, which were very successful and I will need to make lots more if I am going to the Craft Fair this year.  I have also experimented with screen printing and block printing onto felt and this is something to continue, possibly making smaller pieces and incorporating them into cards and decorations.  This aim is continuing this year.
  • Read interesting books - I smashed my previous totals this year, possibly due to the amount of reading I have fitted into my break times at work and the fact that in some cases, ebooks are shorter than real books.  I read 105 books in 2017; many of which were old friends which I enjoyed re-reading.  There were also some new ones including: the Miss Marple stories by Agatha Christie; a book about Anne Bronte, 'Take courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life' by Samantha Ellis (who obviously feels as I do, that Anne Bronte should take centre stage alongside her sisters, not hidden by them); 'When Marnie was there' by Joan G Robinson which had mysteriously managed to pass me by as a child;  'The Lady in Gold' by Anne-Marie O'Connor (which I had to read having loved the film, though the book is much more harrowing than the film);  'Lady Audley's Secret' by Mary Elizabeth Braddon; 'The Dark is Rising' sequence by Susan Cooper and all the Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths.  There have also been biographies, on the artist 'Gluck' and 'Mrs Keppel and her Daughter' by Diana Souhami, as well as Steampunk based novels; the Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann and a couple by James Blaylock.  Certainly an eclectic mix and an aim I shall try to continue this year too.
  • Be Creative - I have been creative this year and have enjoyed stamping, embossing, using Brusho paints and printing on felt).  Jewellery has become less of a pull, although I still make myself a few bracelets and pairs of earrings, as well as the occasional gift for birthdays.   I have curtailed my spending on gemstones, although paper crafting appears to be edging ahead now!  As I get older, I am realising how important creativity is to me, so I will certainly continue this aim.
  • Get rid of/donate things I do not want or need - I have continued to do this but only in a small way so I need to make more of a concerted effort.  I also need to use the things I have, such as my fabric or craft stashes.  I think this will be an aim for many years to come!
An extra achievement on a personal level is weight loss this year, after we joined Slimming World and I am feeling much healthier and better for it.  I have discovered the joys of Quark (a soft cheese which can be eaten with either a sweet addition, such as honey or fruit sauce, or a savoury addition, added to a sauce to make it richer or with something like marmite added to it.  It is high in protein and fat free and I usually eat it with a bit of natural yogurt and honey with a banana for lunch.  It is something I wouldn't want to be without.  I have also discovered chocolate frozen yogurt which I like better than ice cream (I didn't think I would ever say that!)  Then there are Slimming World chips and crustless quiche, which are also delicious and part of our diet now.  I don't think I have ever eaten as many vegetables as I do now and I really enjoy them. 
So all in all, a pretty positive review and aims that continue into this year too...  I hope that 2018 will be a good one for us all.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas to all blog readers and commenters out there (who celebrate this festive season). 

As has become a tradition on my blog, I again quote from one of my favourite Christmas carols,"It came upon the midnight clear" written by Edmund Sears in 1849 (thanks to Wikipedia).  The words remain as relevant and poignant now as they were when they were written.

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing."


As a counterpoint to all the tragedy and sadness which we all know about on such a regular basis, here is a part of the Desiderata ("Desiderata" (Latin: "desired things") which comes into my head every now and again.  It is a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann - with thanks to Wikipedia again).

"...And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

It is still a beautiful world despite everything and there is a lot of good out there. 
The photo above was taken yesterday and shows my camellia Yoimachi flowering for the first time.
I hope that you have a lovely and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Nice things - sheep and embossing folders and Brusho Paints

I recently made two sheep for my good (virtual) friend at Elephant's Child who has been a wonderful support to my blog and who had expressed a liking for the needle felted sheep I had made for my craft stall.  I felt that she should have some of her own as a thank you.  They arrived safely with her in Australia and she very kindly featured them on her blog post for today.
 I think they made her smile.  I am going to be making lots more sheep in the coming year!
 I have also been playing with new things, like embossing folders on satin board.  For those not familiar with embossing folders, they are a plastic folder which has a pattern on the inside.  When they are run through a die cutting machine, the pattern is pushed into the paper or card and it looks like my examples above.  The ones I used above are really detailed, but the detail has come through really well.  They will probably be used in card making projects.
 I have also finally got round to playing with my Brusho paints.  These are a highly pigmented form of watercolour paint which come in little pots.  They are in a crystal form, so for my first experiments, I wet the paper and sprinkled a little bit of the colour out - you have to make a hole in the lids and shake the pots.  The crystals immediately spread out and formed rather lovely patterns and colour mixes.  I did find that they stained my fingers a bit so need to be aware of that (the colour did go after a couple of days).  Adding more water helped the colours to blend, but I found I needed to be careful as too much water made them more difficult to control and I started to lose some of the lovely effects.
They can be used as traditional watercolour paints and there are videos on Youtube to demonstrate lots of other effects.  I like the effect for the background on a card, and I also like the way each one is unique as I would never be able to get the same image twice.  I hope to do more playing over the Christmas break.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Snow

 Like most of the UK, we have had snow.  This was the scene looking down the garden this morning.  However, we were luckier than a lot of people as the snow hasn't settled and has pretty much gone now.
 I like the snow to look at, but don't like it if we have to go anywhere.
My poor box bushes were looking a bit chilly!
There was just one thing to do.  Light the fire and settle down in the warm to write some Christmas cards.  So, that's what I did.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Seeing Robert Webb

Last Friday night, we went to see and hear Robert Webb reading from his book, 'How not to be a boy' and being interviewed at the local City Library, as part of a tour.  For those who don't recognise the name, Robert Webb is a comedian ('Peep Show', 'Back', 'That Mitchell and Webb Look'), but he is proudest of his writing - for the comedies mentioned and work for other comedians too.  While Peep Show is not really my cup of tea, it has been very successful.  I did watch and enjoy That Mitchell and Webb Look.  He has also given a winning performance of the famous audition scene from Flashdance for Comic Relief in 2009, which endeared him to many (click here to see it).  He originates from Lincolnshire and occasionally comes back, but as he said, most of his family are dead, so he doesn't visit as often as he used to.
He was incredibly erudite, answering questions from the audience with aplomb and being genuinely funny.  Many of these questions centred around gender stereotyping and he gave some thought-provoking, sensitive answers.
Needless to say, Chris bought his book which Mr Webb signed and it is next on my reading list.  It has had really good reviews.  I think it will be quite challenging in places, but it includes important issues obviously close to his heart, as well as being a memoir.
There was one really good piece of advice he gave on writing a book (this one took him two years).  Ask yourself three questions and if you can't answer 'yes' to them, don't write it:
Does the book need to be written?
Does the book need to be written by you?
Does the book need to be written by you now? 

Edited to add:  I am about a third of the way through and yes, it is well written and interesting, but (and it could be a big but for some readers), there is extremely strong language from the start and throughout. (I thought I should let you know).

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Stitching Santa 2017 progress

I have been gathering suitable gifts, most with a sewing theme, but a couple of surprises too, for the Stitching Santa swap/exchange, hosted by Sewchet which I'm taking part in.  My parcel will be going abroad, so I need to get it sent off soon, so that it will arrive before Christmas.  Part of the fun is not knowing who is sending the gifts to you.
I have made a little fabric storage box, using a tutorial from SewforSoul, which can be found  here .  It was a great tutorial, easy to follow and I enlarged the pattern just a little to make a bigger version.  I used the fabric which I bought to make a doorstop back in 2015, which you can read about here.  So far, it has made a doorstop, a notebook cover and now a fabric box.  I used fusible wadding to give the material a bit of added strength and that was a first, but was easy to sew through and worked well.
It could have just a little bit of the inside material showing, as above,  but Chris thought it looked better with a bigger amount on show, so that's what I did.
I used some green cotton material for the inside which worked really well, picking up the green on the outer fabric.  I am really pleased with the result and hope that the recipient will like it too.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Cakes and cards

 In amongst preparing for the craft fair, birthdays of friends and colleagues have come and gone.  My colleague, Leanne, had a big birthday last year and I made her the cake above with birthday bunting.
 This year, it was the same 'Russion Roulette Revels cake', minus the bunting.  I have written about this cake before and it is a great recipe, keeps moist and has the most delicious chocolate fudge icing, but works equally well with chocolate buttercream.  The Revels are a chocolate coated sweet, with various fillings - honeycomb, toffee, orange, chocolate, raisins and coffee.  The last two are my least favourite and I usually get more than my fair share of them!  Leanne says she always looks forward to this cake.
 I have also been making cards, again with bunting (a bit of a theme is developing here, but it is very celebratory, isn't it?).  This was for a birthday in September.
 This was Leanne's card this year.  I used glossy accents on the bunting to make it shine and used a kit to create the card.
 This is for a colleague's 50th birthday this week and involved stamping, heat embossing, glitter and glitter paper.  It was very enjoyable to make too.
 I added a few stamps and die cut numbers to the inside too.
The great thing about using stamps is that the envelope can be decorated too.  I have a feeling that I may be making more cards in the future... in fact, my mum is 80 in less than a month, so that is a perfect reason to make another card.