Thursday, 18 September 2014

Silver cotton reels and a lost summer

It has been a busy summer. Open Studios was as lovely as ever. In fact the Saturday afternoon of my final open weekend turned into a sort of woolly garden party to which Celia, Val and Deborah brought their respective yarn projects and crocheted in the sun whilst I brought them pots of tea and homemade biscuits. I was on Radio Cambridgeshire for five minutes on Friday 25th July talking about Open Studios. New friends were made, necklaces found new homes and, as ever, the phenomenon of Open Studios and its power to bring like-minded people together surprised me and introduced me to creative folk with whom I will stay in touch. 

The summer also brought new plans for Comic Relief 2015. There'll be more news on this soon, but I'm working on something potentially very exciting with Jane Toft, ex-editor of Mollie Makes magazine. We hope that the project will build on the success of the Red Nose Day Dolls and the £4300 of handmade cash that we raised thanks to the wonderful support of bloggers and the talent of the 22 designers who contributed, amongst other handmade wonder, diminutive blankets (above) perfect tiny dresses, needle felted dogs and miniscule handmade books

In the last few months I have been writing articles for an exciting new online magazine that will launch in the next week or two. I'll be able to reveal more once the first edition is out.

All these offline adventures alongside the school holidays have meant that there have been tumbleweeds blowing around my blog, but now that the girls have returned to school there will be more time for sharing the news here.

I have been working on commissions as busily as ever, including this moon gazing hare pendant which was an honour to make. Every week or two I receive a request to make one of these fine silver cotton spool necklaces. It hs become such as regular design for me that I decided to make a small batch of them to list on Etsy. This allowed me to imagine that I had my own very small haberdasher's shop in manner of Sylvanian families. Click here if you'd like to have a peep at them. You can choose your own thread colour.

Meanwhile my sweetpeas continue to flower and it's still sandal weather. Unlike most months, September's sunshine seems to be reliable.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Open Studios

When I was a whipper snapper twenty or more years ago I used to hop on my bike during July weekends and visit artists' studios. It was joyous to see their work, chat about how it was made and, if the student funds could stretch to it, buy a hand-thrown mug or a print.

Cambridge Open Studios has been running since 1987. It's a group of around 420 artists and craftspeople who work together to promote creativity, the making of original works of art and to forge a lasting relationship between local people and makers. The COS guidebook is a truly fantastic resource for finding artists in Cambridgeshire. I used it to bring together an ace group of stallholders for several local arts fair I organised in the pre-blog days of 2007. Gina and Celia were amongst them. 

I've been part of this stupendous organisation since 2010. Our studios, sheds, corners of the living room and potters' lean tos are open during the weekends of July each year for members of the public to see our work and talk about and often demonstrate our making techniques. The yellow guidebook tells visitors who we are, what we make and where to find us. 

A jaunty yellow flag outside the house means that you've found the right spot.

 My studio will be open as follows

Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th and Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th July
from 11am-6pm
Here's my COS page or email for directions.

It would be wonderful to see you there. You can peep at my jewellery, obviously, but many people bring portable craft projects, sit in my shed at the bottom of the garden and chew the fat whilst crocheting or knitting. It's lovely. If I have time I'll bake things and a shiny new studio kettle is on order. The garden will be flowering away and I'm hopeful that my small cut flower patch might have a few spots of colour by then. Come and sit in my studio with me if you fancy.

I'm ready*

 *may not be entirely true

Thursday, 12 June 2014


Clay is one of my first loves. The cool, smooth, squidgy feel of it and the bafflingly huge number of possibilities in each lump of clay used to leave me paralysed during school art classes. If I was given some clay it was like being faced with the penny sweet counter aged 6 - too much goodness, too many choices. What to make? I would freeze.

During my twenties I attended pottery evening classes as an antidote to the stress of the day job. For three or four years Bonnie Kemske disarmed the paralysed feeling and I made things with slabs of clay. The things were monstrously chunky and wonky but the making of them was joyous. She encouraged hand-building, the use of small everyday objects such as keys or seeds to make surface texture and the mixing of our own glazes. Eventually I bypassed the glaze room altogether and broke up old bottles and marbles, allowed the kiln to melt them on tiles I'd made and bingo - clay coated with a layer of glass:

Eventually hand-modelling clay, the silver sort, became the day job:

There were potters' wheels in Bonnie's class. I used to watch the wheel-throwers with awe. They were literally spinning plates out of clay. I longed to be able to do this. It seemed as mystical and wondrous as particle physics.

Ten years ago I signed up to a weekend course with Deborah Baynes. I read the website: two whole days of throwing, interspersed with large helpings of food and wine. I'd never been on a making holiday before. It sounded thrilling and almost too indulgent. After several Generation Game-style comedy clay disasters my fingers started to learn what to do thanks to Deborah's patience. I came away with a small bowl, a jug and a pencil pot. I also gained a bit of an apple crumble baby.

When I returned to Suffolk in mid-March for another of Deborah's weekends I worried that the fledgling skills I'd learned in 2004 would have disappeared. In the meantime I'd had children and I'm fairly certain my vocabulary has diminished or at least gone to fallow. Would the neurons responsible for the clay-wrangling remain?

A Vine of Deborah teaching us how to add a 'belly' to a pot.

Thrillingly my concerns were unfounded. My brain and fingers remembered. What's more I could build on them thanks to Deborah's ace tuition. I made the things in the top image. They're useable! 

Spoon by Hatchet and Bear. Cross stitched tablecloth from The Foodie Bugle

As I've said before, I like eating and drinking vessels, not just looking vessels. 

I've drunk tea from most of them. One of them is good for pasta or cereal. 

One of them looks good with flowers in it. 

Thankyou thankyou Deborah. You helped me to spin some pots into existence from several lumps of clay. I'm beyond thrilled.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A tiara to raise funds for Sport Relief

I was never very good at PE. I used to stand forlornly on a playing field on the banks of the Mersey in the mid eighties, wielding a stick with a sort of tiny climbing net on the top of it, trying to scoop up and throw a ball that seemed harder than granite and dropping it, every time, to the concerted jeers and exasperated looks of the Sporty Girls. They would always send me to the 'deep fielding' area, which was half way to Chester. That stick was a sort of modified shoe. Lacrosse. What a wally of a game. 

Whenever Sport Relief arrives in March I always feel rather unqualified to raise any money. I could perhaps organise a sponsored 'throw like a complete sillyhead' event, or perhaps a special 'run like Joyce Grenfell' race. I would win BOTH of these. Perhaps I should do this for 2016.

This year though, I stuck to my strong suit: I made a tiara to help the ASTONISHING TeamHonk team raise pennies. They scooted, cycled and ran in a relay from John O'Groats to Lands End. Imagine it! I got my pliers out.

I used to make a lot of tiaras ten or fifteen years ago. I made them for brides and their bridesmaids. Sometimes I used very special AA grade gemstones that made me hyperventilate. I wove miniscule pearls and silver wire together to make delicate crowns that I liked to imagine Audrey Hepburn wouldn't have minded wearing. I did this in the evenings. During the day I was an intellectual property consultant in Silicon Fen with a brief case and scary heels. Secretly I wanted 'making tiaras' to be my job. 

I made my own in 2001.

The one I've made for Sport Relief has tiny fine silver hellebores and hellebore leaves, little freshwater pearls from the 1920s and...

...diamond beads.... 

...tiny facetted ones that I've twirled into berry-like clusters. They're the real deal. When they arrived in the post from Etsy I jumped up and down like a barm pot and then simply held them in my hands for about an hour. I made a film of them on Vine. I know this is slightly tragic but I've never worked with diamonds before.

It's a Spring crown inspired by the hellebores that grow in my garden. 

I admit to having worn it a few times whilst doing the washing up and wielding the dustbuster. It's VERY cheering. With this on my head I like to think I'm channelling Audrey H whilst folding small vests.

You can bid for the tiara on eBay. The link is here

Every penny will go to stupendous causes in the UK and in Africa. Just £5 buys a mosquito net that can prevent the children sleeping beneath it from being infected with deadly malaria. You can read more about the people and causes that money raised from this tiara will help HERE.

TeamHonk is a group of parenting bloggers led by MummyBarrow, Mammasaurus and AResidence who raise money for Sport Relief and Comic Relief. They are a force of nature. Read about their story here.

Huge thanks to dear L of My Pretty Tea Party who was my patient and very lovely model.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

A necklace a day

It's been a while since I set up shop. My Etsy shelves have been closed to visitors for some months and are slightly cobwebby and forlorn. My commission book has been busy and I've just delivered a new collection to the Cambridge Botanic Garden shop, which has been wonderful, but I do miss making a quick sketch of a plant or bird whilst walking in the wood with Minnie the pebbledog, coming home and translating it into a wearable necklace. I miss grabbing a small handful of shells, gems, and pieces of handmade silver and making them into something new. 

There are designs I've wanted to make for some time and there have been requests for me to list some of the commissioned pieces I've been sharing over on Twitter and Instagram, so I've hatched a plan. 

During June I will be making a new necklace a day. I'm already a little late in starting and I may not manage to make 30 new pieces but I hope to replenish the silverpebble shelves regularly this month. I plan meadow necklaces like the one above, tiny antique keys that used to open writing slopes, poppies to coincide with the self-seeded numbers emerging up in my garden, perhaps a yellowhammer and a swallow or two. 

I'm starting with an old favourite, Seaham seaglass. I doubt I will ever cease to be thrilled by the thought that these tiny pebbles of jewel-coloured glass have been in the North sea for around 100 years, flung into the sea from the Candlish bottle works on the cliff, that closed in 1921. I admit to hoarding this stuff. To me it's bona fide treasure and when I team it with tiny antique pearls and facetted fluorite I do have an urge to don a tricorn hat, befriend a parrot and shiver a timber.

A small collection of Seaham seaglass necklaces is in my Etsy shop.

Edited to add: no two necklaces I make are the same but if by any chance a necklace you might like has been sold, then drop me a line on and I may be able to make something similar.

Note:The seaglass and freshwater pearl garland has now sold.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Seedy wonder

Seeds never fail to boggle my mind. They're like tiny nubbiny bits of dried wood or bark, yet entire trees and sunflowers taller than a house grow out of them.

As Freddie Mercury once wrote, it's a kind of magic. I've written about this over at Higgledy Garden if you fancy a read.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Digging for forgiveness

If my garden could speak, a month or two ago it would have been saying 'You've hardly glanced at me all winter - no bulbs planted, no Autumn seeds sown, no clearing. no mulching. Look at the state of me. CALL YOURSELF A GARDENER?' It would have been justified. I think this may be the third year in a row that I've written a guilt-ridden blogpost about my fairweather gardening. When Spring arrives and the temperature rises a little, I venture out there, assess the innumerable tasks to be done and the extent of the crispy tangle, and often scarper for a week or two more - back into the house - where the tea is.

My wild and woollyish approach to gardening has many upsides: cow parsley in my patio, drifts of self-seeded pink poppies like so many ballerinas, stands of teasels that send bees into a frenzy and evening primrose plants appearing as though from nowhere every July. They're like gorgeous yellow tannoys. Where do they come from? Perhaps the seed is stuck to a bird's foot.

The downside is that it leaves a terrible crispy, stalky mess at the end of the year. After Christmas I justify my continued neglect by telling myself that the birds need the seedheads. It's actually true. Look, here's a picture of some goldfinches that I took through the kitchen window in January. I think they're eating dried lavender flowers.

By April I know I must face the garden music. By April there are caterpillars- the birds no longer need my old dry seedy stalks. Sometimes I gird my loins by nipping to the garden centre for new gloves. At this time of year I buy floral ones. They make the mammoth task ahead slightly cheerier and help to soften the burn of horticultural contrition as I clear last September's dessicated fennel. It's like buying a new Duran Duran pencil case to help make the Lower Five calculus seem less daunting.

Last weekend my Mum and Dad arrived, armed with trowels, handforks and a potted marguerite. My Dad valiantly tackled the ground elder. For any non-gardeners this is like saying that he tried to untangle Sleeping Beauty's gaff from the bramble stalks. I have rude words for ground elder and the way in which it strangles my knautias. I wont share them here. 

Dad, resting after the trauma of the ground elder

My Mum and I hacked at bindweed, administered compost, and planted out roses. All the while I imagined my garden grumbling:

Garden: 'Where were you in February, eh? EH?'

Me: 'Um, here, have some rotted horse muck.'

Garden: 'Don't try to bribe me, look at those nettles.'

Me 'Have these brodeia bulbs, a scabious, a cut flower patch and a tiny willow fence while I'm at it.'

Smallish meadowy cut flower patch sown with Higgledy Garden seeds and edged with willow
. I'm in my pyjamas.

Garden, pouting: 'Whatevers.'

Me: 'Purple podded peas from Celia! An exquisite willow version of the gherkin from Val! A new lavender! MARIGOLDS.'

Garden: 'Pfff. Alright, you're forgiven.'

I think it may still be a bit narky but I'm showing willing with the hose. Meanwhile I'm sorted for free posies.

I'm linking up with the stupendous 'How Does Your Garden Grow?' over at Mammasaurus' house.

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?