Wednesday, November 26, 2014

30 Totes and Bags to Sew - a fantastic new craft book by my sister-in-law

Know someone who likes sewing? I've just found their perfect Christmas present!

My sister in law, the very talented Angharad Handmade has written her first sewing book, 30 Totes and Bags to Sew! This is the UK title, the US title is 'Tote-ally Amazing' and if you are into crafting or sewing in any way you must check it out immediately!

I'm not the most skilled at sewing myself.. (as my previous shoddy attempts will testify) but I know lots of people who and I know this will interest some of you.

This book would be the perfect Christmas present for the seamstress in your life: I've flicked through a copy and I'd be hard pressed to find a craft book more functional, colourful and fun. The instructions are detailed enough for even a needle-phobe (like me) to follow, with colour photos of every step, fold out patterns and extra info on sewing techniques, materials and tools.

I'll stop rambling and hand you over to Helen to share more details herself...

"The book focuses on the Tote bag, that's to say a bag with two handles, and I really wanted to include as broad a range of designs as possible, so inside you'll find projects ranging from a teddy bed tote for young children, to an oilcloth car caddy, to a velveteen evening bag. There are also lots of techniques covered such as reverse appliqué, kanzashi flowers, embroidery and freezer-paper stencilling. I'm so pleased with the final appearance of the book; the team at Quintet and my editor Julie Brooke have done an amazing job with beautiful photography and layouts - it has a spiral binding with hardback cover which has to be my favourite thing as a consumer of craft books as it means you can have the book open flat in front of you whilst working through a pattern. There are also plentiful colour photographs to illustrate the steps, as well as full-size pattern pieces in an envelope at the front of the book."

A few of the bags from the book. The possibilities are endless. 30 bag designs.. infinite fabric choices.... it will keep you busy for many years!

Here's a YouTube thumb through so you can get an idea how well written and snazzily designed this book is!

30 Totes & Bags to Sew: Quick & Easy Bags for all Occasions 
£14.99 by Helen Angharad Henley 
A book of 30 bag designs ranging from the fun to the functional. The book has a hardback spiral binding for ease of use, allowing it to be opened out flat as you work. Full-sized pattern pieces are included in an envelope at the front of the book.
144 pages with colour step-by-step photography.  
Published in 2014 by Search Press Ltd. 
ISBN 978-1-78221-096-2

Enjoy :D

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn Exploring to Penallt Old Church


We went on an autumnal walk from Redbrook to the tiny Penallt Old Church, a 13th Century Grade 1 listed building that turned out to be much more interesting that I first thought.

We walked in and someone had made these wonderful harvest festival displays of colourful fruit and flowers on every window ledge. Rainbows of apples, pears, berries, chinese lanterns, courgettes, sheaves of wheat, gourds and pots of the last autumn flowers.

Trying to get a picture of this treehouse in someones garden on the way up.

It started raining but it didn't matter!

The ancient parish chest (13th Century!), hewn from a single trunk of wood. What did they keep in it??

He finally wore his scarf!

The door of the porch, which was built in 1539, still bears the date carved into the door.

The view from the top.

There was a lot of industry and mining in that area, all lost now, but you see remnants everywhere, old millstones, pipes overgrown with weeds and ivy and apparently, dates carved on wall stones!

Looking up the Wye river from the old railway crossing at Redbrook.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Minbar of Saladin

I recently saw a really interesting documentary called Stairway to Heaven about a fascinating subject I knew nothing about - The Minbar of Saladin. It's a story of strange coincidences, sacred objects, almost extinct crafts, a quest for rediscovery and quite bizarrely, Prince Charles. I found it really worth watching and so I'm sharing it here with you! It's not very long but I guarantee you'll be thinking about it for a while after it finishes.

A minbar is a the name in Islam for what can be compared with a Christian pulpit in a church. However unlike a pulpit, a minbar is often shaped like a small tower with stairs leading up to it and is elaborately decorated. The Iman stands at the top and delivers sermons to the worshippers below.

The most important minbar in the world, dating from 1187, was the Minbar of Saladin. This incredibly beautiful and elaborate wooden construction was installed in the great al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria who led the 12th Century Muslim opposition against European crusaders in the Eastern Mediterranean.

For 800 years the minbar ranked among the world’s most precious masterpieces of Islamic art, being built entirely with the principles of sacred Islamic geometry and using no nails, screw or glue, only many thousands of separate pieces of precisely carved, interlocking, patterned woodwork blocks.

The original Saladin Minbar, photographed in 1900
In 1969, the minbar of Saladin was burned to ashes when the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was attacked by a fanatical Australian Christian.  This was a incomprehensible loss to the Islamic world so very quickly, consideration of its reconstruction began. While researching the design, it was realised that the Islamic craftsmanship necessary to build the minbar was all but extinct.  And so the search began to find someone able to recreate the minbar, the final result of which would take over 30 years to realise...

The story behind this project prompted a resurgence of traditional Islamic artisanship and artistry in Jordan, with the help and support of HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH Prince Ghazi of Jordan.

If that video is awkward here's a link to a YouTube playlist with all 5 parts. The final part gets cut off but by that time the story has been told.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Inspiration XIV

    Gertrude Käsebier. The Picture Book, 1902. Taken from the book ‘The Woman’s Eye’, Anne Tucker (ed.), Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1973

Calendrier Magique (October),  Manuel Orazi, 1895

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868–1928), The Fort, 1925-26

Claudio Bravo, Khabyas, 2002, oil on canvas

Did you know that Cranes were widespread in the UK until the 17th Century? They were over-hunted for food and their wetland habitats were drained and destroyed until they finally died out. Lots of town, village and field names with ‘cran-’ in them are actually derived from ancient names related to cranes.
Here’s a juvenile in Slimbridge Wetlands where over the last 5 years they have been slowly and carefully rearing 100 crane chicks and releasing them back into the Severn estuary. We saw a wild one from the hides that look out over the river.

Israel Hershberg (b. 1948), Maariv, 2000. Oil on canvas mounted on wood, 21.1 x 26.9 cm

The Blind Man - Saturnino Herrán 1904

not floundering

Sorry for not updating this blog recently. I was reading some of my old posts and thinking I really should write something here soon. Carving out time to sit down and write a post has been low on my list of priorities this summer - however I would still like to keep a record of my doings....

I've had a great summer, lots of things have fallen into place for us and sometimes I can't get used to this feeling of how grounded and stable we are right now with where we live, the house that I still can't believe is ours, our community, finances (finally!) and just how we go about things day to day. I am in a good groove at the moment and long may it last. 

Mostyn, who is now three, goes to playgroup three mornings a week (which he adores) and in that short amount of free time I have to choose between exercise, housework or freelance stuff, if I'm not at work. Usually exercise and freelance work wins, I never do nothing in that time. (I save my nothing for evenings from about 8pm, when Mostyn's in bed, we either watch Netflix or I play Skyrim while Huw works on music or programming upstairs. I've started learning to crochet so fill that time more productively!). I try to do a Shred Level 2 or 3, shower quickly and then an hour or so of work. This last week I've had too much work and a haircut to fit in my Shred so I need to get back on that. This year, for the first time, I have really begun to appreciate how much my body likes getting regular exercise. 

After we got married at the end of June everyone kept saying "doesn't it feel different now?" but no, it doesn't at all. After 7 years together what can possible change? The stress of organising and taking part in your own wedding is something I'm glad to have in the past... as someone who has never liked being in the limelight I think I did ok, though I don't actually remember a lot of it because I was so wound up! 

I was so worried about everyone enjoying themselves. It was a very small and low budget affair and I (and all my amazing family and family-in-law) did our absolute best to make the hall we hired look nice and have the day run smoothly - I played with my band for a bit, that didn't work our quite as I'd hoped as one member didn't show up and the other guys were all late but I think it was still nice. There was a bit of dancing and the BBQ was delicious. We couldn't go on until late because there were lots of young children there (including our own!) but overall it was exactly what we wanted. Low key, non traditional and intimate. No expensive wedding photographer - just family photos, only a few people in the room at the registry office, a handmade bouquet from my dad's wife, Huw's mum and dad doing the flowers, my mum making a gorgeous wedding cake, 15 punnets of local strawberries and cream. I really hope everyone who came had a nice time.

We walked into the ceremony room together with Mostyn and all his cousins to a piano track that Huw composed just after Mostyn was born. We chose brazillian and reggae music for when we were signing the book that reminded us of our time talking online that first year, sharing music over MSN and talking until 5am.

Wedding present drawn by our friend Lucy :D
Moroccan lantern from my sister
My friend made us an incredible quilt!!

We toyed with the idea of not having a wedding at all, just a registry office with 2 witnesses, but I'm glad we did. I saw friends I haven't seen for ages who came so far for it, and all of our friends were so generous and wonderful. With our wedding gifts we were able to buy a new sofa and get some bits for the house we hadn't been able to afford before. We decided to use both our surnames for all three of us, no hyphen.

Downstairs is now finished. We have curtains up ready for when the weather turns and some new floating wooden shelves that Huw has been wanting forever. It's so cosy down here now and I can't wait for Winter to come! I want our next project to be the bathroom, which I hate every element of, but I don't know when we are going to have the time and money to be able to do something with it.

I also learned to crochet last week and I've got lots of projects in mind for the winter. It's incredibly addictive and satisfying:

The top squares are what I made from wool I had left over from a peg loom rug I made last year. I'm going to send them to a lady on Instagram who joins donated squares into blankets for homeless people in South Wales!

I also made me and Mostyn mustard snoods from this YouTube pattern!

I got a large, unexpected and very welcome tax rebate so I bought this pack of 15 balls of wool chosen by Attic24 - the ripple cottage blanket they are designed for is a bit beyond me but I'm making little granny squares from the wool (I really like the colours) to make into a blanket.

I've got more things to say but it will have to wait! Hasta la vista...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Polish Pottery

May I just aware you on the gorgeous products sold in Baltica, the Polish Pottery shop in Lewes, near where I grew up.
 This distinctively styled, 'eye-spot' pottery has been produced in the Lower Silesian town of Boleslawiec (formerly known as Bunzlau) since the 1830's. The pattern on each piece is hand-decorated by a unique 'stempel' (hand stamping) technique using a shaped, sponge stamp. This style of decoration is still known in Germany as 'pfauenauge' (peacock eye) - history of the Pottery

 The more I look at these simple, cheerful designs, the more I want them all to belong to me.

Ring hand!
I've have got three bits of pottery, all bought for me by my mum at various times, and I love them:

 Small bowl. (With my Culture Vulture bowls)

 This is my fruit bowl! And my purple shamrock plant.

A medium cream/sauce jug <3

They have a great Facebook page where they have competitions, news about new patterns and pictures of trips they make to Boleslawiec.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Growing vegetables in a small garden

This year I have spent a lot of time trying to grow vegetables. I think it's so important for kids to grow things, spend loads of time outdoors and learn about where food comes from. At nearly three Mostyn has been really keen to help and learn - he knows about seeds and picking fruit and veg, digging, sunshine and of course... watering... he is an expert waterer!

I like to think that it's a past time (I hesitate to describe my attempts as 'skill') he will never forget, that may be necessary in an uncertain future of rising food prices. Yes I am a doom monger. My dreams have been fulfilled as Mostyn LOVES eating stuff we grow, even if it's things he wouldn't touch in a normal supermarket food from fridge type situation. He eats tomatoes straight from the bush, gobbles chopped raw runner beans like they were chocolate buttons and has been digging for potatoes like a champ.

I haven't got much space so mostly I've been growing things in containers. This has worked really well and I highly recommend it! I have no money either so the compost is the cheapest I could find (not peat free unfortunately).

We've grown (or attempted to grow) runner beans, tomatoes, courgettes, potatoes, raspberries, strawberries, sunflowers and some herbs. My strawberries were a total disaster but here's a few pictorial records of my other plants!:

Runner beans
These were so fun to do. I got some grow bags from Wilko because they are cheaper than pots, some sticks and a pack of runner bean seedlings for £1.50 and went for it. The results are spectacular!

My first home grown runner bean dinner!
Yesterday. I have nearly run out of fence!


I bought three heritage plants from the garden centre and they are coming along really well - I kept them in my conservatory for a long time to grow strong and now they are outside along a sunny wall, tied with string to the drain pipe! They are in some big pots I got cheap last year from my garden centre membership.

I love the interesting stripey turban shaped ones.

Cucumber and Gherkin 
I got the tiny gherkin plant for free, it was in box at the side of the road near my street saying 'please take one!' and I got the cucumber plant for £1 outside a second hand shop in town. Both have a tiny fruit growing!


I love courgettes and have never had much luck growing them - I am particularly emotionally attached to them this year because I managed to grow my current plants from seed.  If I had tonnes of space I would be ok but I've only got a small raised bed next to my raspberries. One plant has been decimated by slugs but the other one has finally got a couple of actual courgettes!
My plants I grew from seed!!!
Not sure if we'll get to eat these..... I'm doing my best again the slug onslaught without pellets
Miscellaneous plants

I've also got some beetroot that I had from some seedlings my colleague gave me. I'm not sure how big to let them grow so I'm just ignoring them for the time being.

Sunflowers from a friend! We grew these from seed!

I LOVE growing potatoes - they are so easy and satisfying. Last year I had one bag and this year I've done three. I stupidly forgot what varieties I picked up from the garden centre. Next year I will definitely write it down. I hoped I'd got new potatoes but these ones, whatever they are, are pretty much only good for roasting and mashing - I'm not complaining because they are still delicious. You literally just throw them in the bottom of a bag (I did three to each bag) and pile compost over them as the shoots grow up. Then they turn until triffids and then die down again, when the leaves go yellow you can start digging - Mostyn and I have dug up a whole bag and we've left two to get a bit bigger. The excitement of digging and uncovering potatoes is pretty unbeatable!!

They grew in a bag!! a bag!

Mostyn eating the results of our hard work!