Monday, December 30, 2013

Just doing it...

Sewing from my studio. I practically had to beat a path through all the things piled up in my space but a power tidy of ten minutes last night and I sat down at my machine this morning to start work on some stitched postcards.

So much time thinking about making is just no replacement for actually making. Especially when in the thinking I create such a definite vision of what the finished thing should be that it starts to become something almost unachievable by normal levels of effort.

It was talking about the thinking that then jumpstarted the making. I guess because the ways out of your head and in to your life are by recognising your limiting behaviours for what they are. Talking, journalling, blogging. Just taking a step back in some way is so helpful. I reframe this version of what 'perfect enough to get started' is so many times that I trick myself I've given up on 'perfect' and yet still I circle around things instead of getting on with them. Afraid that what I make and even where I make it from won't live up to my expectations.

Thank goodness for these quiet days when there is plenty of time to get going through it all to the simple joys on the other side. Thank goodness for great friends and inspiring people that share.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Thank goodness for this amazing year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A fairytale Christmas

Stockings sewn from
Once upon a time there was a lady who remembered that Christmas for her is about sparkles of light in dark days. Slow, gentle, magical time with herself and a few of her loved ones enjoying and being thankful for all our blessings and she lived a very happy Christmas 2013 indeed.

Sometimes I think crafty types turn into some kind of crazed fairy godmothers at Christmas, determined not just to have the 'perfect' Christmas as pumped in to our heads by the marketing machines of just about every company out there but to MAKE the whole damn schnazzle from scratch as well. Of course this year with less working hours to excuse me I wanted to make more gifts, more food and participate in the creation of more new traditions than ever whilst remaining serene and shiny throughout. I thought I'd refined the lists, sprinkled a little fairy dust and was going to shimmy on through. Then my back said no and I lay down for a week. Lists are shorter, there are small touches of handmade rather than swathes and the house is beyond messy to make time for the fun stuff. Happy compromises so that I don't have to compromise on the fairytale. I'm already inspired by one of the treats I have lined up for 2014 (Elizabeth's Squam Magic of Myth online course) to write this my way.

Off to Cornwall this week for cosy time with my parents and brother, I know it will be merry and bright if I go slowly and in love. Whatever your fairytale for the next couple of weeks I wish you much light.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Magic Jacket

Twist & Shout cardigan jacket modelled open
Non-knitters might think this was just a cosy jacket. Perfect for the final layer of a jumper cocoon to snuggle in to and keep chill winds at bay. It is that it is true, but of course, so much more.
Twist & Shout cardigan jacket modelled closed
This is a magic jacket not just for the reasons the designer Robynn calls it so, its ability to fit and flatter many women, even naughty knitters who go down a size and still make it too big cos their gauge was off and there was no way they were doing the maths to sort it out! Hmm they're probably the kind of slap dash Sal that would fail after hours of work creating the garment to get proper photos taken before blogging about it!! Lawks they are lucky they have a magic jacket to protect them from the knitting police!!!

This is a magic jacket for me for the memories it contains. Started just a few days in to September a treat to mark the start of the new phase of work designed to allow more hours of craft to come in to my life. I bought the yarn from our lovely, local, East Oxford yarn shop The Fibreworks Oxford which is just a three minute walk from my new office. I felt so good to be supporting a local business that is enriching our community. I knit the beginnings in part in a deck chair, under the trees in my garden in the soft September weather letting sun sink in that I'm drawing on the stores of today. I knit fast and long those first few weeks and these soft grey fibres provided untold comfort when we suddenly lost the furry heart of our home when the softest and greyest of them all Panda passed on to her next assignment.  I wanted it finished within a month and so soon I was cabling while talking, not a skill I possess but the errant twist that appeared is a memonto of my Mum and I endlessly chattering on. I knit with the intention of finishing the cardigan to wear at my retreat thinking the great country house we were in might be a little chill. So wrong I was and when I snuggle now in to its warm embrace I feel the warmth of that house where I had to ditch the duvet at night! Not having finished it in time I remember bringing it downstairs to seam and my new friend Kelly drawing me in to the library to work on it there with others. I remember that space, the feel of the seats beneath me, how glad I was to have that knitting connection with my new friends. I remember with delight showing she of the lilting tones, Fiona, that the wool was Donegal Tweed, while simultaneously ogling her deep red Solstice and adding that to the must knit list. It has memories of all of the lovely ladies of our circle in it from its time there with me. It came home with me with still more finishing required and it came with me to my new craft circle at my local community centre and provided something to discuss with new crafty acquaintances. Finally finished with buttons from my hoard sitting quietly at home alone in my living room it is a portable version of this dear home space for me.

We talked about totems, tokens and talismans at the retreat and I remembered that this is something that handmade clothing always is for me. The pride of wearing something sculpted by my hands reminds me of the skills I possess and gathers in often many months of my life to be carried more consciously with me. Magic of the softest and snuggliest kind.
Twist & Shout Jacket designed by Robynn Weldon
Ravelled here where one day I may manage to add better photos :)

Friday, November 22, 2013


Studio. Soon. Still stuttering along in the cleaning and tidying stages. Some days that makes me despair it will ever be usable. Some days I know this preparation is just part of the cycle. That's where I am today and where I'm going to try and stay.
Baskets and boxes of studio supplies being sorted

Scrubbing plaster from the new studio floor

I'm preparing the ground, committing the space, making a firm foundation for what I feel will be a big new wave of creativity. I've been fallow for a long time now. Little dabbles here and there: I have a cardigan all but done I'm itching to show off and I've made forays into many new areas with classes this year. They have been so important for me in helping me hold on to the identity of crafter and yet... Classes are like a wander off to a well tended park and sometimes I come back refreshed and sometimes they have made me cast ever more harsh eyes at the mess and chaos in my living space and specifically amongst my supplies. Happily that is not how I feel after needle felting and I have the perfect basket to put all my new treasures in while they wait patiently for their turn!

The studio progress was starting to drift as I have rested and not pushed these weeks since I've been back from retreat. Trying to put new knowledge in to practice, playing with habits, making new healthy ones.

I never managed to get this space sorted when I was pushing myself from a place of empty as it was an optional space. Any time and energy for house care was getting spent on more mundane essentials, like the kitchen or bathroom. So having proved to myself that the whip cracking didn't produce results I have been trying so patiently to let the right time to make progress come up. Taking small steps in there invisible to everyone but myself. Now I can feel sorting this space is becoming more of a priority. I've more energy to spend on tiring tasks like scrubbing plaster off floors and more headspace to understand how to arrange things. I've realised I can't think out the perfect configuration I need to get something done and try it and so.. soon. Whatever that means. In plenty of time that I know.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeling felty

Needle felting starting kit

Needle felting class at The Fibreworks Oxford

Needle felting class cottage comparison

Gretel Parker's needle felted Christmas Cottages

Mushroom House, the first needle felted creation
Another class as part of the 2013 schedule to try ALL the crafts. This time taught by the totally wonderful Gretel Parker at my local yarn shop, The Fibreworks Oxford. Class buddy Mama at my side, we studiously (and not so studiously) applied needles to roving (and happily rarely to fingers) to sculpt something Christmassy. Or if you were me (egged on by Gretel I feel) started out with a dinky, dainty Christmas cottage in mind and ended up with a substantial mushroom house. It must be my new freewheeling attitude, I just let the roving do what it wanted.

Scuse the grainy photos, we work with iphones and limited light the best we can. I think the totally adorable nature of the creations shines through. The row of the worlds cutest wee cottages are Gretel's perfection, the last photo is mine. Still a WIP. Roving on its way from the very efficient Adelaide Walker to add a few last touches. And to begin creating the entire woodland village currently living in my head. Favourite class of the year!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Witch ceramic plate section
What better day than Halloween, Nos Kalan Gwav, Samhein or whatever flavour suits, to talk about witches. I've always had a soft spot for the witch archetype: be she represented as the mad cat lady, beautiful Bewitchy type creature or hag throwing eyes of newts in a cauldron. We spent a fair bit of time discussing this archetype at the Redfox Retreat and I came away with renewed faith in the power of women and the magic we are all capable of making. Meghan shared a piece with us by Pamela Grossman that she had found in the Huffington Post which so eloquently explores these ideas and so in honour of my inner witch:

"The archetype of the witch is long overdue for celebration. Daughters, mothers, queens, virgins, wives, et al. derive meaning from their relation to another person. Witches, on the other hand, have power on their own terms. They have agency. They create. They praise. They commune with nature/ Spirit/God/dess/Choose-your-own-semantics, freely, and free of any mediator. But most importantly: they make things happen. The best definition of magic I've been able to come up with is "symbolic action with intent" -- "action" being the operative word. Witches are midwives to metamorphosis. They are magical women, and they, quite literally, change the world."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A blow about


The weather forecasters are telling us to batten down the hatches and the winds are certainly swirling out there but for a while longer the storm is holding off and clouds scud at speed across blue skies. We made the most of our extra hour today to get chores done early and get out for a blow about the park. These photos look very serene but imagine a swirling rushing sound track that is just begging you to join in and scamper about with it and you'd be closer to the mark.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Poised for purses

Purse making supplies from U Handbag
Hello postie, no boring insurance renewal notices today. New crafty supplies yay! From the lovely U-Handbag site. I saw some sweet handmade purses on sale in Cambridge and thought I should act on the thought 'I could make something like that.' So much potential in these little pieces. Am now hoping that the ancient proverb: 'Give a girl purse and she has a purse for a day, teach a girl how to make purses and she has purses for her lifetime' will come to pass.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Slowly, as many times as you need

Feeling very slow today. I had aspirations of scything through many things, gardening, baking, cleaning, creating but I woke with a headache and sore feet. So instead of doing I focused on being and I am sure that all that I most needed to get done today has been done. My head and feet are certainly feeling happier which is most delightful as I have a weekend away in Cambridge to look forward to.

I think that these lessons I need to learn will come up again and again as many times as I need. It makes my impatient soul itch to think I can't just grasp the nettle the first time around but often times I think we are unwinding many years of habits, social norms, lessons learned that don't serve us well now and so perhaps the only way to learn the new ways is to repeat lessons, to practice. Just like learning any new skill. I wish now for the patience I had when I learnt to knit and for understanding of the time needed for this amazing project I am working on. Endless healthy, rich, happy days I am knitting now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A day of my own

A special perk of my new phase of work is that the office is shut on Fridays. Blessed be, a day to myself. Today it has been literally that, since I peered blearily at himself off out to the coalface early early I haven't seen another person and that has felt just perfect.

Outwardly I am quietly puttering in the most delicious of ways: crafting, tidying, chatting on the phone, pinning and eating. Fluffing my nest! Inwardly I am busy as a bee incorporating the most wonderful hit of love, light and revelation from last week. Redfox Retreats = one of the most precious, significant, AWESOME events of my life. Dreamt up by three of the most amazing women you could ever have the privilege to meet, attended in the fullest sense of being present by sixteen of the most amazing women you could ever have the privilege to meet. True kindred spirits and very foxy ladies too!

At the start of the year I remember a drive down to see to my family. I was in the passenger seat, chattering away, ruffled and fidgety in a way I am not normally on a car journey. I remember saying "I feel like I might have to kick over the traces." Months later, after trying so very hard not to do so, that is exactly what I did, I reared up and ran off. I'd narrowed down the culprits and realised I couldn't carry on with my current job and feel anything but less day by day and so I bolted, scared of what would happen if I didn't.

Last month I breathed deep, sat in the sun, started the new job feeling worn out but hopeful that this would be the golden ticket to happiness. As I had been afraid they would old feelings of guilt I wasn't doing more crept in despite so many souls around me telling me to just rest a while. I was trying so hard to start making gorgeous things (that I wanted to make - don't get me wrong!) so I could sell them and hold on to the emerging dream. The dream of a life where I only work part-time outside my home doing a job I love. Instead of being in the moment I was already worrying about a depleting savings account and what I would have to do next.

Last week all the things that I know, the things I have been trying to force in to my being since I first picked up a pair of knitting needles nearly seven years ago, finally started to become more than knowledge. They started to become true beliefs as I started to write the story of my choosing. I finally truly felt that it was more than okay to put myself first, it was essential to allowing all I want to give. I can stop being afraid and start acting out of love. With enough love and self-care anything is possible, every dream I will hold will become what it should be.

Last words of this post belong to my Mama. When I was on the phone telling her about the week all but bursting with joy and excitement she asked if it felt like when I had got back from Brownie camp. Apparently I had flopped on to my bed and said 'It was like a dream.' Was it like that? oh YES!!!

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Florence Park trees

Apples on tree September 2013

Spare room needing sorting to become my studio

Cotoneaster berries September 2013
Ginger cat basking in the sun on car roof

Shady path by Florence Park

Hedgerow hips and blackberries against blue sky

Cowley Road, Oxford, September 2013
Happy September, autumn in the air. A month of change - of new starts and things coming to fruition in the northern hemisphere. The perfect month to be starting a new job. I felt all back to school-ish on Tuesday when I set off, no shiny bag, shoes or pencil tin to send me on my way but different commuting routes to explore and enjoy. My office now is based on the Cowley Road in Oxford, a bustling, busy place compared to the business park I have been on. Two days done and I'm crazy happy with that and everything about this new role.

I love the freshness of this month, a chance to turn a page or start a new exercise book. Breaking from routines brings in opportunities to do more of what you love, what you want to do, what makes you sing and less of what you find yourself doing by rote, for convenience or because you think you should. My few days break gave me that feeling I often get dreaming away on holiday, thinking about all the things you could do in daily life but somehow often just don't in the humdrum way of getting through the day. Different meals to cook, places to go or hobbies to create space for. Just tiny changes that make me feel like I am really living and not just passing by.

I have new spaces to sort out at home - can you set up a Folksy shop just as an excuse to sort out the spare room and make it a studio?? I mean I have the prettiest hooks. No worries, that is it practically done already. I'm gradually trying to tackle it and the rest of the house and the mess that builds up when I'm looking the other way - working or crafting. In truth getting that spare room sorted for craft supplies will help everywhere else as well, but oh the sun is shining outside and my deck chair keeps calling me! Still I will start to chip away at the inside stuff a lot more now I have less working hours out of the house. Back in the spring I read this post by Sas Petherick about home and I realised why living with piles of shifting stuff around had been seeming to make me feel a little crazy. Ah filling my lungs with Septemberness, so many good things starting here.

Monday, September 02, 2013

A sleeping beauty

1893 Singer Sewing Machine
Black and Gold paint The Singer Manufacturing Co
Close up of 1893 Singer badge below stitch length adjuster
Underneath of Singer vibrating shuttle mechanism from 1893
Winding a long bobbin on Singer 1893 hand crank machine
Bullet shaped long bobbin shuttle case
Samples with vintage 1893 Singer machine showing number plate

A stately old lady has come to stay with me. 120 years young if I read her number correctly (love that Singer list these on their site). She was £3 in a local auction. £3! The first photo is how she came out of her original case, complete just a bit dirty.

She's been waiting in the wings a month or so now so that I had time to read and watch some of the many resources generously shared online and learn a little of her mysteries. All I've had to do is a little cleaning and oiling this weekend, adjust the tension and now she's trundling away happily making stitches. Just forward, nothing fancy you understand but if I'm still here at 120 I doubt I'll still be making stitches! Somehow she's both baffling and simple. So many great resources online are helping me get her stitching like she should be - she's a long bobbin or vibrating shuttle or whatever the correct terminology is. The bobbin sits in a bullet shaped case. I'd never realised that bobbins were ever this shape.

I swear I can actually feel my pulse slow when I turn the handle on this beautiful creature from a different age. Cleaning and polishing away over the weekend I imagined what it must have felt like to take this home from the shop, shiny and new. Waves of nostalgia though it's for someone else's past,  electric machines were what featured in my childhood. I wonder how many hands have turned that smooth handle, worn away the gold paint. What things has she sewn and when was the last time she was used? She was very dusty but relatively clean and rust free, running even without oiling. Her wooden case is pretty banged up but there was still thread on her bobbin and a sharp needle in place. I feel an odd sort of privilege to wake her up and stitch with her. I wonder what we'll make together.
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