Monday, 19 March 2018

A Cosy Hygge Day

With so much snow around lately there is nothing like a spot of Hygge to give yourself a warm glow inside.  Hygge is the Danish state of living well, that is to say "the art of cosiness of the soul and taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things." I recently picked up a bargain copy of the bestselling book "The Little Book of Hygge" by Meik Wiking who is CEO of the cosily and wonderfully titled Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and has spent years studying the magic of Danish life. Denmark has been named one of the happiest nations in the world and it is because of their hygge approach to life and well-being that helps them survive winter.

Denmark has more that its fair share of snow and lack of daylight hours but because Danes spend most of their time indoors from November to March they make the most of it and hygge at home by for example wrapping themselves up in cosy blankets in front of the fire and lighting candles every day that bring a warm glow not only to their living rooms but classrooms and offices too. Denmark burns more candles per head than anywhere in Europe, around six kilos of candle wax per person each year. That is a hell of a lot of wax but  I do agree that candles add cosiness to a room and I love to light candles once it has gone dark, outside too in the summer.  

Us Brits of course by tradition moan about the cold, dark, damp weather but for lots of people the winter months can be a really down and depressing time of year.  But if all this sounds a bit too twee then maybe we should just try a spot of hygge ourselves and start enjoying the winter months a bit more instead of dreading it and wishing the months away until the first daffodils burst forth. From a personal point of view I don't mind winter at all, in fact I get the the whole hygge thing because I love sitting in front of a log fire, knitting or sewing, wrapped in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate or a glass of cheeky little red.

Yesterday for me was very much a hygge day as we had a good fall of snow again so I sat on my bean bag in front of the fire and got my knitting out.  I have been knitting a pair of woollen socks for quite a few months now or at least attempting to knit as I have never knitted a pair of socks before and even with all my knitting experience turning the heel was somewhat of a battle but now well onto the second sock. I have to admit though that a weekend hygge day is better than a working hygge day as it's no joke when you have to battle the inadequacies of public transport just to get to work and I can't help but think that the Danish transport system probably copes a lot better with the snow than here in the UK.  

The Danes have a popular hygge saying which goes "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing" and I can't help but agree as I could really have done with these cosy woolly socks a few months ago not now that spring is almost sprung.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Secret Santa Patchwork Purse

Every year at Ikon Gallery where I work we do Secret Santa.  The rules are spend no more than £5 and buy from a charity shop or make your own which is what most of us at Ikon prefer to do as we are all a creative lot. I always choose to make my own so this year I made a patchwork purse.

For this year's inspiration I searched through my many sewing and textile books and came across this beautiful little neck purse in a vintage book called Patchwork published in 1980. I seem to remember the book was a cast off from my mother-in-law in one of her many 'let's get rid of everything useful' moods.  

The design I used is also featured on the front cover.


It's a gem of a book with a very 1980s feel about it. Very Laura Ashley with lots of spriggy fabrics, frills, flounces and quite a bit of twee, but also containing good practical 'how to' advice on patchwork and quilting and filled with many easy projects to do which was what I was looking for. 

I quite fancy making a few more as it was so easy to make. They would make ideal gifts for children and adults alike and the pattern can be adapted to make a make-up purse. A great stash busting exercise too as it was a chance to use some of my hand-dyed cotton. Nicely padded too with wadding and lining fabric, finished off with contrasting bias binding and a toggle button.  Have a great Christmas everyone and here's to many more stitching and crafting projects for the New Year. 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

A Snuggly Jumper for a Snowy Day

Thought it was about time I posted as it was early Autumn last time and here we are in the depths of winter and a big fall of snow here in Brum. When it's cold and snowy it makes me want to wrap myself up in big soft slouchy jumpers that wrap me up in a layer of cosiness against the cold. I knit a lot of my own jumpers but this one is a beaut knitted over a couple of decades ago by my mum.

It has what is called a bagel collar, a kind of semi rolled neck which does actually resemble a bagel,  and is super chunky chunky.  A big pins job! It is very big and slouchy, so big that I was able to wear it when I was very pregnant with my daughter who was a winter baby so lots of chances to wear big and slouchy. Funny thing is I went off it after my daughter was born as I still felt huge in it. Glad I hung on to it though.   Today I wore it to shift a huge delivery of logs that had been dumped outside our house half on the road, half on the pavement, but with a lot of help from my neighbours and a wheelbarrow we made light work of it. 

I love snow and I do feel disapppointed that the UK does not get as much snow as I remember back when I was a child.  Those were the days when schools stayed open unless they had a burst pipe. I remember clearly having to trudge through the snow to school and hating how the snow crept over the top of my wellies drenching my socks but oh how we loved building snowmen in the playground and making lethal slides like sheets of glass. I think these days school kids aren't allowed out to play in the playground when it has been snowing - health & safety and all that malarkey!

This is our back garden looking very picturesque and Christmassy. I think it will all be gone by tomorrow evening as rain is forecast. Shame as it was such fun at the weekend with neighbours dragging their children behind them on sledges on their way to the park. 

A long time fan of cookery writer Nigel Slater, I am reading his book 'The Christmas Chronicles', a book he has written not only of comforting fireside suppers and essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year but stories of his love of winter.......

"I love the crackle of winter.  The snap of dry twigs underfoot, boots crunching on frozen grass, a fire spitting in the hearth....... voluminous jumpers and woolly hats, the steam rising from soup served in a deep bowl, the light from a single candle and the much-loved scarf that would feel like a burden at any other time of year. "  

                             Nigel Slater "The Christmas Chronicles", 4th Estate, Harper Collins 2017

A man after after my own heart. Here's to mulled wine, dark chocolate spice cake, spiced lentil soup and pot roast partridge with parsnips. Yum!        

Friday, 15 September 2017

Beer & Books

Anyone that knows me well will know that as well as a passion for stitch I have a certain penchant for beer and books.  Not necessarily in that order but life doesn't get much better than when able to combine the two at the same time. I belong to two book groups and have been a member of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) for over 25 years. So while holidaying in Falmouth last week with my husband (also well into beer and books but unsurprisingly not so much stitch) you can imagine our surprise and sheer delight to discover a pub that not only serves the best beer in Falmouth nay Cornwall but is also a bookshop to boot. 

Beerwolf Books lies just off the main street in Falmouth almost hidden up an alleyway. We got that quickly sussed though and knew we always had to turn right at the Pandora shop. So most days after a long hard trek along the South West Coast Path, or dodging one of the many showers (who was it that said it was always good weather in September?) we would seek refuge there for our treat of a foaming pint of 80 Shilling from local brewery Rebel, or one of the many other cask ales, and hunker down in one of the cosy alcoves with a book of our own or peruse one of the many titles on sale. 


There is a great buzz about the place as Beerwolf's clientele is an eclectic mix of students from local Falmouth University studiously sat at tables poring over their laptops with a coffee or a pint or both in some instances, regulars, and tourists who per chance pop in for a quick pint only to discover the bookshop oasis at the top of the wooden staircase and end up staying all afternoon or evening.  There is an eclectic mix of seating to match including old cinema stall seats, church pews, battered sofas and old barber shop chairs.

On top of all that customers are encouraged to bring their own food so on entering we would often be greeted with delicious smells of Indian spices or freshly fried cod and chips blended with the heady aroma of hops.  Indeed once ensconced here with our beer and books we found it mighty difficult to pull ourselves away so we eschewed the numerous restaurants around in preference to a mercy dash down to the high street to bring back fish and chips two nights in a row.  And very delicious they were too.  

With on average 29 pubs a week being lost across the UK and the sad demise of many independent high street bookshops as buying habits change, could this formula be their salvation?  Why aren't there more pubs and book shops like this on our high street?  What a great combo and what's not to like?  A better take surely than the ubiquitous Costas that you seem to stumble across in Waterstones.  

So not to forget my other habit of stitching I came across this beauty of a book in one of my many book browsings in Beerwolf.  The Gentle Art of Stitching by Jane Brocket with over 40 sewing projects for the home.  I like the idea of creating a quilt from vintage tray and tablecloths of which I have many and fancy having a go at creating a Suffolk puff patchwork.  Plenty then to keep me occupied well into Autumn.  A bargain too at £8.00 instead of £20.00.  Falmouth and Beerwolf we miss you!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Festival of Quilts 2017

So a busy summer spent keeping the plates spinning  and juggling work, gardening, cooking, all the usual stuff that also prevents me from getting into my sewing room for those precious moments when I can relax behind my sewing machine or paint into my sketchbook.  I always find time though in August to go to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC.  As always a huge array of talent and the most incredible quilts and textile artworks but here are just a few that caught my eye.


I loved this quilt which was basically a recipe for Oxford Marmalade with all the ingredients and the recipe itself embroidered onto the quilt.

The canvases on these deck chairs are all quilts. What a fantastic idea to do one of these at home instead of a boring old stripey canvas. More comfortable too if it's padded.


This quilt was made entirely from old jeans. 

A must on my visit to the Festival was to head to the Through Our Hands exhibition curated by the very talented textile artists Laura Kemshall and Annabel Rainbow. 

This is one of Laura's quilts of her daughter Amelie.

Every Thought a Question by Laura's mother Linda Kemshall and the other half of the very successful on-line workshop and design school DesignMattersTV of which I subscribe too and can highly recommend. 

 Self Portrait in the Third Person by Annabel Rainbow
Annabel is one of my favourite quilt artists. Her work focuses on the age of the modern woman with each of her quilts telling a story and exploring themes of age, domesticity, identity and career.  Juggling the balls of womanhood!

This incredible 'darned' portrait by artist Jenni Dutton is of her mother and is just one in a series called The Dementia Darnings depicting her mother's battle with dementia. 

By artist Sue Stone 

Ophelia by Michala Gyetvai another of my favourite textile artists who felts threads onto old woollen blankets. 

A wry note to end on.  I loved this little portrait I found in the Through our Hands Portrait Shuffle  where the idea was to donate a portrait of your own in return for a portrait from someone else and all to help raise funds for Save the Children Fund. I think this is what I must look like when I am down on my hands and knees in the garden weeding.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The View from my Washing Line

It's been a while since I have posted and that is because during the summer months my garden seems to take up most of my time. I am constantly amazed at how my garden has flourished from winter bleakness, to the new shoots of spring and now that summer is here, an abundance of blooms. And of course with all the rain we have had mixed in with the sunshine the weeds have also flourished with a vengeance. I just can't keep on top of them and my garden often seems an arduous business a lot like painting the Forth Rail Bridge - a never ending task which only seems to diminish when Autumn arrives and I can gradually turn my back on the garden as winter approaches without feeling guilty.   I have to say I am very much a fine weather gardener but for now am taking lots of pleasure from my garden and every time I go and peg out the washing there seems to be a new flower in bloom and I can never resist dashing inside for my camera to take a few snaps....

The Geums I planted last year from small plugs are looking magnificent and just seem to keep on blooming. 

Love these giant Oriental Poppies but they are always quite short lived and all the rain we have had has not done them any favours. The seed heads though once all the petals have dropped off look attractive and this year my aim is to harvest the seeds. 

My favourite shrub in the garden - Viburnum Plicatum 'Pink Beauty' - the flowers start off white then gradually turn pink.  

Geranium 'Wargrave Pink' puts on a magnificent display and is ideal as ground cover. 

 Another hardy Geranium ideal as ground cover. I think this is x Magnificum.

The wonderful Digitalis (Foxglove) spires give architecture to a border and look so pretty but beware as they are oh so poisonous especially to cats and dogs. 


Love this cushion forming alpine Saxifrage which I will plant out in my rockery after it finishes flowering.  

The bees love feasting on the blackberry flowers.

My first every gooseberries. I bought this bush last year and was looking forward to baking a gooseberry crumble but disappointingly not a huge harvest.  Still quite a young plant so hope for  better things next year. 

Photo of the Violas taken a few weeks ago but sadly not at their best now. They always remind me of traditionally dressed Japanese Geishas. My garden always inspires me to get out my paints and do some watercolours. I am a huge fan of mother and daughter textile artists Linda and Laura Kemshall and on Linda's blog she has been busy painting the flowers in her garden in a concertina sketchbook. I too have a concertina sketchbook that's been lying around with blank white pages for far too long so with that in mind I am determined to set aside an hour or so each week to fill it with watercolours of the flowers in my garden. In between all the gardening that is!