Where growing, making & good living come together

Do it better

Posted by on Wednesday 5 February 2014 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been trying to do things better recently.

It’s not particularly a New Year’s resolution or anything like that because it started towards the end of last year but I am going to try to stick to it all year. In 2013, I learnt a lot of new skills and as I started to see myself level up*, I wanted that to continue – and spread out to other areas. (Perhaps even blogging ;) )

I guess it started with the sewing course that I took last term – I’ve sewn, on and off, since childhood but I’ve always been a bodger. The epitome of that was the costumes I made for a drama production last summer – the craftsmanship on them was APPALLING. They only needed to be seen from a distance and if they hung together for the three performances, I would be happy. They served their purpose but it didn’t exactly give me much confidence to, for example, make my own clothes. The sewing course – at the wonderful Hive Studios in Shipley – took me back to basics but showed me how to do them right, and while I still consider myself very much a beginner on the sewing machine, my lines are a lot straight, my hems neater and I have infinitely more knowledge about construction techniques and what my machine can (and can’t) do.

Practise stitching

Since my decision to refocus, I’ve been taking the time to do basic samples of embroidery stitches simply to practise stitch lengths/angles/blending techniques (the first ones, above); my pottery** work is now slower and is gradually – in fits and starts – becoming more refined; and, my spinning has become more even and finer (while remaining strong). I’ve also started keeping better track of things – documenting what I’m working on (with swatches/photos as appropriate) and the tools/materials I’m using — a core learning technique but something I’ve never made the time to do.

Given my love of doing EVERYTHING, I’m always going to be a generalist rather than a single hobby specialist but that’s no excuse for perpetually shoddy work. I think I’m enjoying the process more than I did now as well – I’ve always liked the crafting journey but now I’m slowly down, I think I’m getting more of a meditative pleasure from it too.

Coincidentally, this video turned up in my Pinterest stream today. He’s talking specifically about writing (hence the reference to “one story”) but it actually applies to any creative activity. I’m definitely in the gap with a lot of my activities but slowly, very very slowly, I’m seeing it shrinking.

* I’m already a Level 34 in Confusing Video Games with Real Life.
** I took a course at Hive last term and am doing another one now but I’m probably doing more at “drop-in” sessions. It’s so much fun!

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Stitching etc tips from the Knitting & Stitching Show

Posted by on Thursday 21 November 2013 in making | 2 comments

I’ve been at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate today.

As I’m not particularly one for just browsing shops (especially at the moment) or just wandering aimlessly, my main focus has been on the workshops. I did four today and have another four lined up for my return visit on Sunday.

Today I did: the Shibori Blues (indigo/cloth resist dyeing), Intro to Crewel Embroidery, Japanese Embroidery & Embellishing Quilts. They were all interesting but were rushed trying to fit everything into an hour. Embellishing Quilts was the one I was least excited about going into it but I think has been the most valuable (since I want to start quilting); the Japanese Embroidery had the steepest learning curve (having to twist our own threads from the thinnest silk!). Shibori Blues & Crewel Embroidery largely went over things I’ve done before (the former on a general natural dyeing course in February, the latter from a kit I did around the same time) but the latter especially was useful because I had a chance to ask questions about refining my techniques etc.

As well as the subject specific things I learnt in the sessions, I also picked up a lot of general stitching/quilting/misc hints and tips. Some of them may be obvious but they’re new to me. I thought I’d post them here in case they’re new to you too – and to remind me of them, because I’ve not exactly got a lot of processing/practising time these next few days (normal sewing class tomorrow, a comic con on Saturday then back to Harrogate on Sunday – and a novel to finish, as well as everything else that needs doing as usual!).

  • If you can’t thread a needle, try approaching the hole from the other side – the eyes are punched out so the hole on one side is usually bigger than the other. (This is not a trick I need as being able to thread needles is one of my superpowers. I am Needle Threading Girl!)
  • Don’t lick thread to seal the ends to thread it through the needle’s eye – it apparently swells the fibres
  • Use self-threading needles for sewing in the tiny ends – this was an in-passing tip so I didn’t get all the details but I think it would be useful for sewing in the ends of crochet motifs, maybe?
  • The waste knot method is the best way to start (crewel) embroidery – though it takes some mental rewiring!
  • Start the waste knot method about a centimetre along the stitch line (for line work) so the anchor stitches will be hidden – the waste knot can be anywhere in the same colour space for space work
  • Wrap embroidery hoops (both the inner and outer) with bias binding tape or strips of calico to improve the grip – it means you don’t have to over-tighten the hoop and does less damage to the fabric
  • Take shower caps from hotels to protect embroidery work – didn’t quite hear the start of this so not sure if it was just while travelling or during reworking…?
  • Shower caps are also good for swimming costumes post-pool – rather than wrapping the costume in a towel
  • Long and short stitch in crewel embroidery should really be called Long and Longer Stitch – I asked how to make it look good and the simple answer was ‘practise’. The longer answer was:
  • Don’t work in just one area at a time when doing long & short stitch – working across the whole area to be filled, sew in the (first round) long stitches to give you an idea of shape/angle before starting on the shorter stitches. Also don’t be afraid to mark the fabric first to plan where they’re going to go.
  • Practise was the main repeated advice throughout the three sewing-y workshops – I think of the kits I do as practise/learning new techniques but I think there is a lot of value in doing very small pieces (max 6×4/10cmx15cm) that are nothing more than doodles.
  • There is not enough time between Knit & Stitch workshops to either get a cup of tea or eat sandwiches – I thought there was time for tea but there was not and I was late. Plan accordingly!
  • Carbon paper is much more effective for image transfer than I thought it would be – I really should try more image transfer stuff
  • Everyone tells me Colonial Knots are better than French ones – not sure why yet, will check it out!
  • Lakeland do rubber gloves with a cuff at the wrist end – useful for dyers etc – stops the liquid from the hands running up your sleeve
  • I saw several examples of quilting/stitching with the design in negative space – just something I hadn’t thought of doing before and something I want to try now.
  • Ribbon flowers – do a running stitch along the top of the ribbon (rather than the middle) – they’re easier and more ribbon efficient
  • Use a darning foot for machine quilting – can’t remember why, was just told that by someone from a Quilters’ organisation so I believe them ;)
  • Use deliberately different shapes/lines for crazy patchworking – just easier!
  • Iron-on wadding is good for quilting beginners – one less thing to worry about – it isn’t good for blanket quilts (it’s too stiff) but it’s fine for small decorative pieces/wall hangings
  • Iron-on wadding needs to be bubble side up – that’s the glue side
  • Make sure all the iron-on wadding is covered before you iron it – the glue will melt and will NOT come off the iron
  • Don’t use plastic headed pins for quilting – they melt when you iron over them
  • Use a piece of velvet as a mat while doing (seed) beadwork – it makes the beads easier to pick up and stops them rolling about too

Think that’s it – though I’m sure to learn more random stuff on Sunday! (If anyone else will be there on Sunday, I’m doing the Silk & Spindle workshop, then ribbon embroidery, pieced patchwork bowl and Japanese padded fabric pictures, and I might try to fit in a little drop-in batik as well. Basically, I’ll be in Hall E!)

Do you have any favourite stitching tips?

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No Spend November

Posted by on Thursday 7 November 2013 in anti-consumerism | 1 comment

grey-pj-purse-smallI feel like I’ve been a spendy-spendy lately so am having a “No Spend November“.

Well, it’s not no spend because I still need to buy food for us (and the animals), and to pay for transport and stuff related to things I’ve already committed to (a gig and some courses), but “no more frivolous spending November” wasn’t quite so catchy ;)

I’ve not been going crazy with my spending but over the last few months, I’ve bought some (mostly charity shop/ebay-ed) clothes when I’ve not really needed them and have indulged a little too much in craft tools & supplies and books – and that all adds up. I thought it might be nice to pull back a bit and try to reset my spending gland.

If I have to buy something, I will but I’m doing a few things to hopefully make the whole “no spend” thing as painfree as possible.

Firstly, I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year – NaNoWriMo has a habit of distracting me from everything else in my life, so I have less idle eBay/Ravelry/Pinterest browsing time. It also means I craft and read less so should not be quite so tempted to start new projects, or discover new books that I MUST READ NOW.

Speaking of those books, I’m going to remove my credit card from Paypal and Amazon again. They’re weak spots for me – with a saved credit card on file, it’s all too easy to buy inconsequential stuff – a £2 book or some sewing trimmings – without much thought. I need to stop that.

Next, I’m also going to take the opportunity to unsubscribe from a few of those ever-so-tempting shop newsletters before they begin their Christmas/New Year Sales onslaughts. I’ve already unsubscribed from a couple of email circulars but I definitely should unsubscribe from the handful of paper ones I receive as well.

Finally, I’m going to go out without my purse more often – just take the money I need for bus fare. I’ve started doing that when I go swimming – just taking my pre-paid card and £1 for my locker deposit, and it’s removed the temptation to go to the supermarket on the way home for a sweet reward. I think I might do the same for my weekly classes too, to remove the temptation of popping into charity shops while I’m nearby (mmm, nearby charity shops).

So that’s the plan – we’re seven days in of course, but I’ve stuck to it so far. Hope I can stick it out for the whole month!

Have you had any periods of deliberately not spending recently? Do you have any more tips to avoid temptation?

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My winter to-do list 2013

Posted by on Wednesday 30 October 2013 in admin, growing, house, making | 1 comment

(I wrote this last month but for some reason it didn’t get published – I only noticed when I came to tick stuff off — I’ve actually been powering through it compared to my normal slow productivity speed!)

Every year for the last few years, I’ve written myself a “preparing for winter” list for all those jobs that have to be done before the weather turns for the worst. I’m glad I can say I’ve FINALLY finished all the ones on my 2010 and 2011 lists now – well, except for the things that need doing again — it’s only taken me two or three winters!


The garden ones are similar to previous years – the routine stuff – though an afternoon in the garden last week has already ticked off some of the usual low hanging fruit (eg, tie up the low hanging fruit bushes!).

1. Tidy up the greenhouse & take any remaining tender plants into house for overwintering – I don’t think there is anything too tender in there but I’ll check.

2. Pop all terracotta containers or plastic ones holding delicate herbs into the greenhouse (and fleece if necessary) – this is a bigger job than in previous years as I bought lots of terracotta pots in the spring.

3. Add extra chippings to chicken run – John’s dad brought a load of chippings a few weeks ago but I’ll top them up again this month. Will hopefully stop it getting too muddy and/or freezing quite so solidly.

4. Sort out the wood pile, cut more “easy grab” logs & fill kindling bins inside and out – I’m out of my Sunday morning routine of clearing out the chicken coop and chopping the week’s kindling. I need to get back into that but a kindling buffer would be good too. We also need to shuffle our logs between the different stores – some of the ones further down in the garden should be seasoned enough now to come to the near the house store. (30/10/13 -Kindling bins are full for now, and we have quite a few “easy grab” logs – just need to keep the piles stocked up.)

5. Arrange for the tree surgeon to come over – we need to trim/cut down some trees but it isn’t safe for us to do it all by ourselves. We’ll do some and he can do the rest.


1. Fix cat flap in the kitchen so it isn’t so draughty – the magnet that holds the flap shut has gone. Should be fixable.

2. Fix the downstairs stove – a John job rather than one for me — something needs fire cementing again. We should also replace the cracked firebrick in the upstairs stove too. (30/10/13 – John has fixed the downstairs stove. Still need a new firebrick for upstairs though.)

3. Clean out gutters at front – after the leaves fall.

4. Wash the thicker, winter duvet – I really wish I’d thought to do this over summer but even the washing involves a trip to the laundrette and summer was rather chaotic. (30/10/13 – a kitten “accident” ensured this happened at the start of October. I washed the thin summer duvet at the same time.)

4b. Re-sew feather pockets as necessary – the feathers have been migrating through holes between the pockets.

5. Move more fragile plants out of the porch – and I guess, ditch the dying annuals from the herb shelf.


I’m pretty well kitted out for winter this year – last year I got a new everyday winter coat, fab new winter boots, and lots of warm socks — in fact, I can’t wait for winter in that respect!

1. New wellies for me – I’ve worn my wellies just about every day for three years now and they’re beginning to show their age – worn soles and inners, and a hole in the shoe part. They’ll be fine for pottering but I’d prefer a new pair for dog walking etc. (30/10/13 – after discovering three new holes when I wandered into the sea at Ainsdale/Southport a couple of weeks ago, I finally got my act together and got my new boots last week.)

2. Scarf (and mittens? and hat?) for John – he has reappropriated my very long scarf but I’m going to make him a little Day of The Tentacle inspired one instead. Will make matching accessories if I have enough yarn left over. (30/10/13 – I started this a couple of weeks ago – not been working on it constantly but it’s nearly there. Another few evenings should do it.)

2b. Make a jumper & cardigan for me, and maybe felted slippers for John – this are maybes more than definitelys. (30/10/13 – jumper is finished, just need to tie in ends, go me! Yarn has arrived for the jumper.)

3. Tidy out our pantry/store-cupboard cupboards to get a good idea of what we’ve got and what we need (for us and the animals) – this is a sooner-rather-than-later one so we can stock up as necessary. We order our cat and dog food online so I’ll make sure we have a spare bag in store in case there are any problems with deliveries. Chicken feed is bought locally – but they sometimes have problems getting their deliveries in bad weather so again, I’ll buy an extra bag.

4. Buy a new stick blender – our old one, which has been a faithful kitchen friend for many years now, is on its way out (think: disturbing electrical crackling from within!) and I don’t think it’ll handle another souping season without dying spectacularly, shocking us or both.

5. Make pyjamas for Mum and a blanket for Mum & Dad’s bed – share the snuggy!

What have you got to do before the cold weather kicks in?

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Taking stock: a ‘what I’m up to in my absence’ meme

Posted by on Wednesday 28 August 2013 in meta | 4 comments

Inspired by Lynsey.

(For those not following me on Twitter, a few bits of news might be pertinent for understanding some of these. Firstly, our lovely old man-cat Boron died in June, which was sad but expected, and we got three new rescue kittens at the end of July – Matilda, Kaufman and Strange. They were 18weeks-ish old when we got them so they’re just under 6months old now so they’re hardly little kittens any more but they’re still very playful and very amusing. Second, I left my job at the theatre [teaching drama] in July – it was officially only a few hours a week but it took up considerably more time than that, both at the theatre and at home, and was crowding out my time & energy for other things — fun stuff and other work stuff. I’m now trying to decide what’s next.)


Making: a couple of blankets for the kittens – Tilda particularly like kneading blankets so I’m making some tiny ones for their beds. Strange is showcasing the first one above – it was very much a quicky (mostly made in a few hours while chatting and no blocking, hence the wiggly sides), made from leftover yarn
Cooking: with stuff from the freezer – there isn’t enough room for ice cream so we need to clear some space!
Drinking: too much tea but also water through a straw – I’ve discovered I drink far more water if I use a straw
Reading: after re-reading a few fiction favourites recently, I’m currently reading some books about treating anxiety and “In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor” – it’s surprisingly endearing (all from the library).
Wanting: um, surprisingly very little at the moment.
Looking: at the animals dotted around the room – we’ve just given them their spot-on flea treatment (the kittens for the first time with us) and they’re giving us the stink eye back!
Playing: I played old school Tropico while I was ill after finishing drama (my usual post-production slump) but I think I’m done with it for now
Wasting: the last few weeks of summer in the garden – I had a really good handle on it until my crazy busy fortnight in July but it got overgrown while I was busy and now I have little enthusiasm for reining in the annuals. I’ll deal with the shrubs and perennials when the annuals die back.
Sewing: an embroidery of some tomato plants that I started back when my now triffid-like tomato plants were tiny seedlings – sewing has taken a backseat to crochet in the last few months but I think it’s very nearly finished
Wishing: for those around me to have a better next few months than the last few
Enjoying: having a little breather between commitments
Waiting: for my pottery and sewing courses to start in September
Liking: watching the kittens exploring the garden. I thought they’d go off on big adventures in the woods straight away but in their fortnight as inside/outside cats, they’ve mainly stayed in the garden — hiding behind big courgette leaves or amongst the strawberry plants to jump out on a passing sibling, bouncing between the different levels like it’s one big cat tree, and in Kaufman’s case, watching Chicken-TV from on top of the run.
Wondering: what I’ll be doing a year from now. So many possibilities!
Loving: how well our old Carla-cat and Lily-dog have coped with the new arrivals – there were a few awkward days but by and large, everyone has slotted together wonderfully. The picture below was taken at the weekend, a month after the kittens moved in – it’s Carla, Lily and Strange. Strange was the hardest to integrate – Lily would ignore the others but try to chase Strange and Strange hissed at Carla whenever they bumped into each other. As you can see, they got over the initial grumpiness. (Kaufman loves Lily the most though: he’s always going up to her for headrubs and tries to sleep next to her whenever she’ll let him. He even tried to feed from her once, which confused Lily no end!)


Hoping: Lily-dog will sleep tonight – she’s had a few bad nights this week (not uncommon in older dogs) and that’s meant I’ve had a few bad nights too. I was wandering around the garden with her at 2:30am this morning and it was probably nearer 5 before I got to sleep for the first time — and that was on the sofa in the office
Marvelling: at how organised and on top of things I seem to be at the moment – it’s a new thing! I’m not expecting it to last (especially if I remain sleep deprived) but I’m enjoying it in the meantime!
Needing: a few hours more sleep! Also, to do my daily chicken chores and get some work done.
Smelling: … animals smells. The flea stuff on the back of their necks, the litter tray… nice!
Hearing: the chickens clucking and next door’s little dog whining – because I just took the latter into her garden for a wee, which excited both her and our chickens!
Wearing: a boring black tshirt because due to the inclement weather over the last few years, about 90% of my tops have long or three-quarter length sleeves and I have a dearth of nice short sleeved shirts for actually warm days – this is one I use for my backstage “blacks”
Noticing: the timing of our local fruit this year- the cherry plums are late (and very sparse) and the blackberries are early. (Also, like Lynsey, I’ve noticed a lot of butterflies around this year, and lots of bees as well. I’d like to think I’ve made a more wildlife friendly garden and this is my reward but I think it’s just a coincidence!)
Bookmarking: lots of things on Pinterest and Ravelry, which has the unfortunate side effect of making me constantly want to do the next project rather than the one I’m currently working on. Also lots of things which may or may not be useful depending on which of the million paths I choose to pursue over the next few months.
Opening: all the doors and windows at all times – making the most of the weather before autumn kicks in and to make up for the stifling days during the last weeks of the heatwave, when we had to keep everywhere closed up to prevent the kittens escaping.
Giggling: at finding kitten teeth marks in odd things
Knowing: very little but
Thinking: lots of things!
Feeling: momentarily tired but content

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