Category Archives: Musing

The Simple Things

I have a little rule that I don’t talk about work here. After all, this is about the makes and musings that give the best after-hours escapes. I’m very lucky that my work as a craft journalist overlaps with the things I love but on the whole I aim to keep the day job and the fabric stash separate.

I feel strangely shy about this but yes, I am about to break my rule to tell you about something I’ve been working on. (I am allowing myself a little leeway as it has been taking up what would have been my crafting time.) It’s a brand new magazine, The Simple Things.

What’s it about? Well, basically my perfect day – and I very much hope yours too. Start with a treat of a breakfast recipe, a gossip with friends, a trip to a specialist shop to choose the perfect cheese, home to use it in a delicious lunch recipe (even I couldn’t mess up), a fun look at wonderfully ordinary things nature is up to this month, an afternoon walk collecting apples, a nose around an interesting house and a glimpse into what it’s like to go to a seed swap. As evening comes there’s a whimsical look back (at ‘ghost signs’ this issue), supper with friends, a chance to settle down and try some crochet and even a bedtime story to round off the day. Admittedly, I would be a fairly packed day but there’s a whole month to try all these things before the next magazine shows up on the shelves.

If you’d like to see for yourself, it’s in shops now or here if you prefer to shop online. (There’s a taster here too). I would genuinely like to hear what you think about it. Don’t hold back! Love it or hate it, I’d very much value your comments.

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It’s all in the name

Rediscovering a treasured plate made me think about something else created by the same very talented friend. His passion is for ceramics, both in the study of styles from 1950s Midwinter to today’s Bridgewater and also creating original items with his own hands.

When he came to stay some years ago, I showed off by dressing my table with one of my best ever textile finds – my very own ‘Chez Jenny’ tablecloth. It’s quite small and perfect for my little drop-leaf dining table. The story goes that it came from a French restaurant that closed and sold off all its linens. I only wish I’d had the funds to buy up more of the napkins and tea towels at the textile event. Ah well, it probably would have been a bit much to have my name embroidered all over my home!

He won’t thank me for showing off some of his early work but I can’t resist this one. Ever the perfect guest, my friend entered into the spirit of things by posting this little jug to me a few days after his stay as a thank you gift. It features a simple heart design (just two brush strokes) and of course the essential ‘Chez Jenny’ lettering.

I’ve loved the way his work has developed over the years, so I’d like to share. Take a look at his very own Hogweed Pottery. I’m lucky enough to own some of these later models too.

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In praise of pink

I tend to forget all about pink. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it often seems like too obvious a choice or just one with too much baggage. Girls are supposed to like it and so I over-think it and avoid it. Lately I’ve have had a couple of little reminders that have woken me up to the potential of pink all over again.

It’s peony season and I know for sure that these are my absolute favourite flower. Deep pink or the gentle pale variety, I don’t mind. I’ve been greedy and have two vases of them in my living room right now. The season is so short I have to get my fill.

Last week I sat in a friend’s stunning living room and started to think about what made it so lovely and inviting. The walls were papered in a bold Toile de jouy print (pink line illustrations on a rich cream) and the heart-stopping feature of the room was a French-style armoire. It had no doors just open shelves housing a gorgeous collection of lustreware plates and cake stands.

Apart from my peonies, I just wouldn’t think of pink for my living room. It seems like a dreamy bedroom kind of colour but I really want to rethink (not over-think) this having loved the atmosphere my friend has created. I’ve started small by rooting out an old treasure. This wonderful lustreware plate was made by another friend many years ago. It was actually featured in a magazine and I was thrilled when he let me be its custodian. Sadly it had sunk into a neglected spot at the back of a bookshelf but now I’m prompted to bring it out and find somewhere special for it to reside. I have high hopes for the power of pink.

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Crystal magic!

I don’t mind decorating but I need treats to spur me on. After three days of sanding paintwork, scraping at grouting and losing my temper with overly-sticky masking tape, it’s taking more than the odd square of Green & Black’s chocolate to help me decorate my bathroom. How can a 6 x 6 ft room take so much effort?

Decorating is great at the paint chart stage, then it’s all down hill from there. Why are there always so many fiddly bits and unexpected problems before you actually get to wield a paintbrush? I finally dipped my brush in a rather lovely green shade of Farrow and Ball late this afternoon. ‘Cutting in’ all the edges made me grumpy but doing the big open areas was actually quite therapeutic.

Putting up the light fitting was a finishing touch treat (love a bit of styling) but I was nervous about how it would look. It’s a little something I concocted myself with a modern wire frame and a long-treasured collection of chandelier crystals. I’m so at home with fabric and threads, I’m quite out of my comfort zone with materials like this. I have the ideas but it’s so much trickier to make materials like glass and wire bend to my will. Fabric is just so much friendlier. I wobbled about standing on a chair to secure the fitting, only a couple of the crystals broke free and needed reattaching. So far, so good.

After tea I wandered back into the bathroom to see how the paint was drying and if I’d missed any bits. I pulled the cord to turn on the light and was quite bowled over by the effect. I’d no idea that crystals could throw off the light like this. I wish I could capture it better for you to see as there were actually rainbows dancing across the ceiling! A sparkly bathroom and the smell of fresh paint, what more could a girl want from her weekend?

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In praise of the daffodil

I’ve always underrated the humble daffodil, pushing it aside for its posh springtime cousin the tulip, or even the positively exotic hyacinth. I was so misguided. There’s nothing so cheery as these bright yellow blooms in the days when spring sunshine is still a novelty. Now I love them and am in awe of how a bunch of supermarket-bought, dull green, elastic-banded stems can open into such flamboyant flowers.

Maybe I just took daffodils for granted as they seemed to grow like wild flowers in the garden of my childhood home. Clearly the previous owner had worked very hard but my trusting childhood view was that they were just natural. We had the most amazing garden. Every child should be so lucky to have the quarter of a acre we had for adventures. Near the house was the formal, grown up stuff like a patio and rose beds but if you kept walking (or galloping if you were on your imaginary pony) things got much more interesting.

There was a very small hill half way down the garden, always covered in a huge number of daffodils in early spring. Brought up with a healthy imagination for buried treasure and smugglers’ caves, this mound was always the subject of much speculation. What could possibly lie beneath? At the very least it might have been an old air raid shelter. Eventually curiosity got the better of my dad and he borrowed a metal detector to find out more. My brother and I looked on, breath held and hearts beating fast. The machine beeped! And then beeped several times more. Out came the spade and an exploratory hole was dug between the daffodils. (This operation must have been carried out my mum wasn’t looking as she had a passion for the daffs and always filled the house with beautiful arrangements). And there it was, a pile of old metal guttering, several down pipes and two disappointed children. I expect my dad was disappointed too but probably relieved that he didn’t have two over-excited children squealing for daddy to make an old shelter into a den for them. The mystery mound must have been a heap of builders’ rubbish that was too much trouble to take away. My family moved away from that house over 25 years ago, so I wonder if the garden is still the same. I hope other children have enjoyed wondering about buried treasure.

This year the daffodils seem more welcome than ever. I’ve bought a few bunches in the last couple of weeks and even enjoyed admiring banks of them in nearby Victoria Park. (How lucky can a girl get, living so close to the Royal Crescent in Bath?) I got carried away with the quantity I bought  yesterday. So much so that I had enough tightly budded booms to set aside for a second vase. Flowers for the bedroom, the ultimate luxury! I may be imagining things but I think they actually make a small popping sound as they unfurl. I heard the unfamiliar sound twice in the night and sure enough two of the buds were starting to open when I woke up this morning. Even if I have imagined it, I love the idea that flowers make a sound with the effort of opening.

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Welcome to the Mollie Makes bunny blog hop!

Isn’t it strange the way the same theme keeps popping into your head? Right now it seems I have bunnies on the brain. I’ve just embroidered this hoppy chap, which will be made in a little stuffed shape along with lots of farm animal friends (from Charlotte Lyons’ Maggie’s Farm pattern). It’s a long overdue present for a small friend of mine. It was intended as a Christmas gift and here I am almost three months later hoping she doesn’t grow out of such things before I finish the set.

Stitching this bunny gift for a little one stared me thinking about one of my favourite childhood books, The Velvetine Rabbit by Margery Williams. It’s the beautifully told tale of how a tatty toy rabbit becomes real. If it isn’t already on your bookshelf, please do get a copy. You will need to get a hanky too – I can feel myself welling up just thinking about the story. You’re perfectly safe though, it does have a happy ending. I don’t know what became of my childhood copy, so I bought a new one last year and have it ready for when the small people in my life are old enough to appreciate having it read to them.

The warmer weather makes me feel like spring is finally on its way and I’m celebrating with a big vase of daffodils. I’ve also rooted out this little rabbit display dish. For many years it lived in a dark cabinet in the hall at my grandparent’s house. I used to peer at it behind glass but was never allowed to touch. When it came to the sad business of clearing the house after my grandparents died, I couldn’t resist giving it a home. My mum describes it as a primrose vase but to me these flowers just aren’t meant to be picked for indoor displays. Here it is with tiny ‘tete-a-tete’ narcissus instead. The little dish of flowers is filling my whole living room with the scent of spring. Perfect!

My final bunny comes in the form of Mollie Makes’ Easter bunny blog hop. To celebrate the publication of spring-inspired issue 12, the team are giving away an amazing felted rabbit fascinator, courtesy of Helen at From the Wilde. Now that’s what I call an Easter bonnet! If you’re already part of the hop, you’ll know that you need to count the number of rabbits you see in this post and hop on to the next blog – visit the lovely Lara’s Sunday Best. If you’re new to the blog hop, you can get started right here.

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Christmas past

Someone once told me that if you don’t have children yourself, you stay much closer to your own childhood. For me this certainly rings very true, especially at Christmas. For a week or so now I’ve been having little twinkles of memories about my childhood Christmases. These days I’m still all about the anticipation, much preferring the planning, decorating and wrapping to the actual holidays.

When I was little there was always such excitement about when we could put up the Christmas tree. I was brought up in a small village where heaps of cut trees were piled up outside the green grocers’ shop. It was simply a matter of picking out one to suit and reserving it with a tag with your name on it. When time permitted, the owner would pack a load of unruly trees (no netting in those days) into his van and distribute them around the neighbourhood. There was no rule to the timing of this delivery and you never knew quite when to expect your tree to be hurled unceremoniously into the front garden. I would always wonder how this poor undignified heap of branches would be able to take on so much magic.

The first stage was to protect it from the dog, which appeared entirely unfussy if a tree was growing or uprooted when it came to the business of territory marking. If it was in the garden, it was clearly meant for him. Much ‘shooing’ later, it was time to get the tree into the house. In those days I think trees must have been cut a long time before they were sold, as needle drop was enormous. The thing would leave a trail from the hallway through to its resting place in the living room – apart from the year my dad had the idea of bringing it in through a window, which removed almost every needle it had.

There was no thought for leaving roots on Christmas trees back in the 1970s, so the operation to get it to stand up was a major task in itself. A large bucket and many bricks later, it was in position and only needed around 2ft chopping off the top where my dad always misjudged the height of the tree in relation to the ceiling. Yes, we always competed with Trafalgar Square with the size of our tree!

Next came the ritual of making the fairy lights work. Carefully wound around old copies of the Christmas Radio Times the previous year, it was always a mystery why they never worked first time. Every bulb had to be tweaked and/or replaced before up to three sets were placed on the tree. This was apparently men’s work and I was never allowed to touch. I didn’t care, I was very happy to unpack all the baubles and reminisce over the sparkly wonders I’d forgotten. I don’t remember us ever buying any new decorations but the collection was huge and very special.

‘Operation Tree’ had typically taken some hours by this point and it was often time for my brother and I to go to bed once the fairy light stage was complete. The real magic occurred overnight because by morning something breathtaking had happened. A rush downstairs on a gloomy December morning would reveal the most beautiful, most twinkly, most marvellous tree ever. The elves had clearly been at work overnight! The only elf was actually my Mum, who must have worked into the small hours placing every last ornament and every swathe of tinsel to absolute perfection. I think many families enjoy handing over the decorating to the kids to do whatever they fancy but I never felt deprived or frustrated. My Mum always created the most magical Christmases a child could ever wish for – the tree was only the start. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for the memories she’s given me.

It’s never been practical to have a Christmas tree in my small flat. I did have a teeny one once but the poor thing could only handle tiny ornaments or it looked like I was being cruel to it. Instead I usually bring in bunches of evergreens and hang them up with generous lengths of red ribbon. Very Country Living!

My latest tree tradition is to create decorations for my friend Rosie and her little girl. I started last year with the two felt trinkets you can see above, made using wonderfully retro patterns from Alicia Paulson. I’ve just put the finishing stitches into the two decorations I’ll present this year. I will be meeting with Rosie next week, so I won’t reveal what I’ve made until then.

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