Sunday, 31 January 2016

Stationery recommendations for the letter exchange

Goodness, the response to my handwritten letter exchange has been astonishing. Over 600 people have signed up so far which shows how much we are missing receiving something more personal and individual through the post than an email or text on a device. I spoke about it on BBC Radio York and Cambridgeshire on National Handwriting day. You can listen here from 2h 43 minutes in (at one point I pledge to befriend a carrier pigeon).

The closing date to sign up for the letter exchange is this Friday, 5th there's still time to join in and tell a friend or two if you know someone who might enjoy a spot of letter writing.


Meanwhile I've been scouring electronic land for a few lovely stationery supplies for the merry band of folk who are about to put pen to paper...


I featured Mirta Tyrell of Modern Botanics' beautiful print designs a month or two ago. They're inspired by the landscape and nature finds she brings home from her walks where she lives by the side of Lake Como in Italy. I adore this set of postcards with simple botanical sprigs and trees. Excitingly Mirta is offering 15% off the cards and postcards in her online shop with coupon code writealetter. Click here.

Celia Hart has long been a friend of mine and her linocut designs inspired by Suffolk wildlife and countryside were featured in Country Living magazine a year or two ago. This card design, 'A fox broke cover', is a particular favourite of mine. Celia is offering 15% off all cards in her online shop. Simply enter valentines16 at checkout.

Louise of Super Duper Things posted a little printable beach hut on her blog a week or two ago. I think this would make an stupendous postcard or something to print out onto plain card and include in a letter. I love the idea of tiny cardboard beach huts arriving in letterboxes. Click here 


Make your own envelopes using this excellent template from Present and Correct. Print brown paper with a stamp before you fold and stick your envelope or use pages taken from favourite catalogues. Toast envelope anyone?

Oh and there\s something tantalising about string washer envelopes, also from Present and Correct. What a stationery-lovers dream their site is.


Adding a stamped image to a letter turns plain paper into something especially lovely on which to write. These hand carved botanical stamps by Little Stamp Store are perfect for this and the shop is full of excellent designs to turn a simple brown envelope into a thing of beauty.

Might you have any recommendations for lovely stationery supplies? I'd love to hear about them...

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Silver necklace/ silver workshop giveaway

Robin's nest, campion seedpod,cast of a medieval pilgrim's badge, acorn, imprint of heather.

In recent months I've been in talks with several excellent folk around the UK and even in Europe about hosting my jewellery-making workshops. The edge of the Fens can be tricky to get to and besides, I'm very fond of a road trip.

One of the highlights of 2015 for me was a workshop hosted by garden designer Emma Bond in her beautiful studio in Bath. The image below is a sample of the pieces made by the beginners. We cast perfect replicas of sycamore keys, euonymus berries, ivy flowers, an ammonite, acorn and even a small (deceased) beetle.

I have workshops planned in Eastbourne (18th June), Bath, Leicestershire and possibly even Italy. It's a thrilling thought that I might teach by the side of Lake Como later in the year. I'm ashamed to say that I know how to say little more than 'Where is the old bridge please?' and 'what a delicious pizza'. My Italian needs some work.


I'm giving away one space on one of my 2016 workshops* either here at our cottage or at one of the venues around the country (I'm seeking hostesses from late summer onwards, especially in the North West and Yorkshire).


However, should you live outside the UK or would prefer one of my necklaces then I will make a one just for you (the same value as a workshop space). Perhaps you'd like a silver campion seedpod (like the one in the top image), a particular much loved bird species that you spotted on a walk or maybe a tiny replica of its nest. Maybe you'd choose a sprig of blackthorn blossom or you'd like me to cast a fossil, sea urchin or acorn in silver for you.

Whichever design you hold in your mind's eye I will make it for the winner if that's their chosen prize.

Each entry will give you a chance to win either a workshop space OR a necklace made for you (but not both)

The closing date is next Thursday, 4th February and you can have up to 3 entries (by following me on Twitter,  on Instagram or signing up to my blog via email). 

Best of silvery luck!

* not including my joint necklace- and posy-making workshop with Georgie Newbery at Common Farm flowers on 14th May.

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Friday, 22 January 2016

Handmade hygge

Have you heard of this Scandinavian word? It's pronounced 'hooger' and there isn't an equivalent term in English. It's an approach to winter that is rather different to the British strategy of simply tolerating its greyness, moaning about the weather and longing for Spring. 

Hygge is about treating indoors like a cosy cave and embracing small treats and pleasures at this time of year. 

It's a sort of wintry self care...

Down with deprivation. For many January heralds a strict regime involving very little cake.  The Danes don't have any truck with this. They feel that winter itself is challenge enough and eating and being merry continues after Christmas. Eating carbohydrates releases serotonin so baked treats bring cheer. Add some warming stews and a glass of mulled something and Blue Monday (which I feel should be renamed Bun Monday) becomes something to look forward to.

Light. Daylight is scarce during Scandinavian winters. We may have more hours when the sun is above the horizon here in the UK but the thick flat cloud often makes it feel like dusk for much for the day in January and February. Feel-good chemicals are released in our brains when we're outdoors in daylight so for many of us winter brings an inevitable mood droop. Candles and lanterns are not quite the same as having our nearest star shining brightly in your living room but the smallest tealight on a windowsill casts a glow that can cheer even the dreariest afternoon. In Denmark lighting candles and lanterns is an integral part of hygge as they make indoors welcoming and snug. My friend Deborah has spent time in Scandinavia and lighting a flame (or five) before visitors arrive is crucial - a lack of candles or lanterns is seen as a lack of welcome. 

I confess to a small candle-lighting ritual each evening at the moment. Once they're are lit we nestle in.

Swaddling and cosiness. Wrapping yourself in blankets and quilts adds to the joy that cake and candles bring. Why wear clothes when you can wear a duvet too? I am tempted by this excellent garment

Here Lamby and Biscuit are embracing piggy hygge by making a den out of wool.

Making. It may not be mentioned in the recent flurry of newspaper and radio articles about the Scandinavian approach to winter but for me craft is crucial during the darker months and is part of the seasonal nesting that embodies hygge. It soothes away the dreary feelings caused by crappola weather and results in cosy garments that keep the chill from fingers and necks. The gentle repetitive movements, the feel of the soft wool and the aesthetically beautiful shapes made by the stitches mean that crochet as lifting to the spirits as any cake or cluster of candles. All 3 together whilst nestling under a handmade blanket is a recipe for January joy

Have you been embracing hygge (and perhaps not put a name to it until now)?
I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Write a letter by hand

Last summer I had the idea of hand-writing some of my blogposts and exchanging letters with fellow bloggers and instagrammers. My handwriting had fallen fallow and become uncertain and familiarising myself with a fountain pen for the first time since school felt wonderful. I was keen to revive the slow, largely neglected yet entirely lovely process of writing letters by hand.

I've always loved making the shapes of letters with a pen, attended several terms of calligraphy night classes when I was still in my twenties and am an unashamed typewriter font fan. Special Elite anyone? I even illustrated a couple of hundred fossils for Cambridge University's Sedgwick Museum once (see above and here). 

So, I asked if anyone might like to exchange handwritten letters with me. I received so many messages on Instagram, Twitter and via email that I confess I was quite startled. I knew I wouldn't be able to write to everyone and so I let the idea lie dormant for a while (whilst being horribly haunted by inky guilt).

Meanwhile a few wonderful creative folk wrote to me anyway and receiving their beautiful letters was such a joy...

Illustrator and Twitter pal Chichi Parish sent me a letter of such beauty that I feel it belongs in a gallery. Her handwriting and use of her pen is exquisite. No wonder, as she undertakes illustration for English Heritage, The National Trust and Diva magazine.

She wrote out a poem by Elaine Feinstein for me and drew little cartoons of our dog Minnie.

I confess I felt almost tearful when I received these letters. Each one was an enormous treat - more special than an email, direct message, tweet or even a blog comment. There is the aesthetic pleasure of opening the envelope and holding the crisp paper inside, but it was the thoughtful messages, little drawings and gorgeous handwriting of the person who had taken the time to write to me that made it so lovely. It was without doubt one of the highlights of 2015 for me and I was keen for it to continue. 

I wondered whether there might be a way to pair people up with one another and considered doing this myself with a special email address...Then I noticed Christmassy gift exchanges happening on blogs and Instagram. A clever website called Elfster (run by elves obvs) automated the process of pairing folk up for exchanging presents sent in the post. Genius.

So, I have set up a handwritten letter exchange....

If you'd like to sign up, then after the entry closing date you'll be allocated someone to send a letter to, and someone else will send a letter to you. This way you'll have two potential folk to write to.

If you'd like to send and receive just one letter that's ace, but I'm hoping that some letter-writing partners may continue to write to each other for at least a little while.

Sign up by clicking the image below

NB: Ignore the stuff on the website about wishlists and don't be alarmed that this is called a gift exchange. I'm simply using Elfster's automated pairing system for this project. If you'd like to include seeds, pressed flowers, drawings, small handmade somethings etc in your envelopes then WONDERFUL, but this is about the pleasure of writing and receiving letters.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Making Winter: the cosy story so far

For much of December I was working on a potentially exciting project that took much of my time and energy. Along with Christmas commissions and the twinkly event itself it left little time to give to mundane tasks such as laundry or checking to see how frightening my hair may have become overnight. The washing mountain rivalled Mt Fuji by the time the girls went back to school. Dogs began barking at my hair, such were its horrifying dimensions.

On Instagram the Making Winter hashtag seemed to split into two (one with and one without the underscore) and there are now close to 4000 images of seasonal creativity and ways to survive the greyer days of the colder season.

It was a joyous task (although rather belated) to look through December's Making Winter contributions over on Instagram. The nine above spoke of Hygge to me - that wonderful Scandinavian word meaning cosiness, light, good food and meeting with friends during winter. For my Hygge also means making as craft is so therapeutic and effective at lifting mood.

From top left:

I also fell for this tiny knitted menagerie by dear lucylocketpocket1 using Julie of Little Cotton Rabbits' pattern (Julie has recently joined Instagram too). I would like to stuff my pockets with these little creatures. Their FROCKS for crying out loud!

My favourite image from the Making Winter feeds in December was from Jax of liveotherwise. This encapsulates the project for me - finding something small and beautiful on a cold dark day. I adore the shapes of the branches and the horizon in the distance. It reminds me of Jan Pienkowski's silhouette landscapes and fairytale illustrations. I'd rather like to take a walk right there. Jax, please email me your address and a parcel of handmade goodness will be on its way to you.

Image by Laura of Circle of Pines

Meanwhile bloggers added wonderfully inspiring posts to the two Making Winter bloghops: Val's tiny willow stars, Rachel's Parkin,  Julia's ginger biscuits, handcrafted advent calendars, Fenland Lottie's delicious homemade mincemeat,this wonderful Christmas pudding hat  and Laura of Circle of Pines' little dried orange peel garland were definite favourites.

The weekly #makingwinter Twitter hour has become a wonderful way for makers to share their seasonal designs, yarncrafters to show their cosiest projects and bakers to make us all yearn for more cake. Thrillingly the hashtag trended on Twitter a week or two ago.

THANKYOU for joining in with Making Winter. For many these weeks after Christmas can be the toughest- the days are still short and sometimes interminably grey and we have already laid down a store of visual loveliness, recipes, designs and also, in some cases, friendships that will keep the grey grims from the door. Every tweet, picture, blogpost and stitch will help to cheer the road to Spring.

There are two months to go until Spring proper arrives. I'm planning a project that will bring cheer to even the dreariest days that remain in January and February. Stand by with ink pens and writing paper.....

Monday, 11 January 2016

The revival of the nature table

Do you remember the classrooms of the 1970s and '80s? Often there was a small table in the corner dedicated to nature finds that you or fellow classmates may have brought in to show the teacher. A pinecone, a snailshell and a bird's nest would all be labelled and displayed proudly and would often be the inspiration for a lesson on the seasons, lifecycle or rudimentary biology. Sometimes the nature table corner might emit a malodorous whiff as something decayed, or may become rather dog eared and dusty, but these little collections of finds were immensely inspiring to my budding interest in nature as I grew up in suburban Liverpool.

In a modern day classroom there seem to be less scope for spontaneity in the timetable and being inspired by a nature find, even for keystage one teachers, seems to be less possible. Nature tables have become a rarity due to health and safety risks. In some ways this is understandable. In Stephen Fry's autobiography Moab is my Washpot he describes bringing a deceased mole to school in triumph, hoping to be victorious amongst nature table contributors, only to have it explode in a horrifying way before he'd reached the school gate.

How could a collection of hagstones, a vase of blossom, a vole skull and a lichen-covered twig fail to spark the interest of a classroom full of children? For those that remain impassive add a couple of coprolites (fossilised Jurassic poo) and they'll be queuing up to learn where these intriguing items came from and a little about how and when these creatures lived or where they can spot the blossom that has been collected.

A hundred years or so ago most children, especially those who lived in rural areas, would know at least some of the names of the plants in their local hedgerows or the birds that visited their gardens. This knowledge is increasingly rare now. Taking a walk to find out more about the plants and wildlife in the surrounding parks or countryside teaches both adults and children about the diversity in the habitats near where they live or where they are holidaying. It's so satisfying when I can identify a new species in a local hedgerow or learn a new birdsong so I can recognise it whilst out on a walk.

Making collections or taking nature walks connects people to the seasons. It's a wonderful way to counter the gloom that can sometimes descend at this time of year. There is more the find out there than you might imagine and getting outside to let sunlight into your eyes boosts serotonin levels. Often an early interest in nature can lead children towards science. My lifelong interest in biology, which culminated in a degree and some time in academia started by identifying plants and weeds in my granddad's garden and taking nature walks when very small.

Long-term blog friend and newish Instafriend of mine Emma Bradshaw shares my passion for collecting specimens whilst out on walks and is as keen as I am for children to learn a little more about the habitats around them. She has started a wonderful hashtag on Instagram - #thenaturetable, encouraging others to share what they might have found and the collection that have made whilst out and about. I've already been joining in and hope to add to my knowledge in the coming year. Armed with field books, Observer guides and perhaps a flower press perhaps we can make 2016 the year of the nature table.

Do you make nature collections? Might you have fond memories of nature tables when you were small? Might you fancy joining in with Emma and I? We'd love to hear...

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Homemade notebooks as gifts: superduperthings' bookbinding tutorial

Several years ago I came across a small shop full of very lovely handmade, mostly paper things, called, rather appropriately, Super Duper Things (see a small sample of the beautiful wares above). 

Louise Evans who owns the shop is an illustrator, genius junk shop fossicker and has the glad eye for a scrap of metallic leather and a copper foil disc. Her designs were featured in one or two very fancy magazines. I'm excited today, because Louise has conjured a tutorial for making perfect little stitched notebooks. There are still 9 days till you-know-when and this is one of those quick how-tos that could truly be a lifesaver in the coming week....

Louise says: 

Have you ever considered learning to bind your own books? I find it an immensely rewarding craft, perfect for making special gifts and using up all that nice paper one might have been hoarding for years (or is that just me?!). The good news is that you can get started with the most basic type of bookbinding in just an hour or so with no fancy equipment. Sound good? Then lets get started!

You will need:
- a piece of card for your cover
- a few sheets of paper for your pages, I'd recommend starting with 7-10. This can be any kind of paper you like, though it'll be a bit easier for starters if it's not too thick.
- some quite thick thread, ideally waxed, but embroidery thread will work
- a sharpish needle with an eye large enough for your thread
- a craft knife
- a cutting mat
- a ruler, preferably a metal one

We're going to do what's called a three-hole pamphlet stitch, which is lovely and easy and once you've got the basic theory you can go on and make all sorts of things.

We'll start by cutting our cover and pages all to the same size, and then folding them in half to form a loose book. I've got this rather fetching moon surface card that I'm pretty sure I've moved between four houses... Now is its time to shine!

If you suspect that bookbinding might be your calling, I'd encourage you to invest in a bone folder. The kings of bookbinding equipment Shepherds Falkiners have some nice ones, and it's always fun to poke around their shop!

When all your sheets are folded, take your ruler and use your knife to mark three equally-spaced holes along the folded edge – sometimes it's easier to do this in batches. Use your needle to make sure that all the holes go right through (this'll make the stitching go more smoothly later!)

Now stack all your sheets in the order that you want them to be in the finished book, with the cover on the outside, and all the folds going the same way so that the pages are nestling (spooning?!) correctly. Open them out and lay them flat in front of you.

Right then! We're ready to stitch. Thread your needle and here goes. Don't worry, its easy! Have a look at the image below. Now take your needle and thread, and starting from the outside (of the cover), we go:

- in at point B
- back out at point C
- round the outside to go in at point A
- back out again at point B.

Hurray! That's it – that's the hardest part over with. Pull the ends of the thread that are sticking out the centre hole as tight as you can, then tie them together in a knot. It's best if each thread is on a different side of the centre stitch when you knot them together so that it holds it firmly in place.

Now, give the fold a bit of encouragement - you can open it up and rub the fold at random points throughout the book to help it hold a little bit more 'shut' if you like. Admire your excellent stitching as you go.

Now, you'll probably notice that some of the pages, especially the ones in the middle, are sticking out of the cover a bit. This is called 'creep' (yes – official bookmaking terminology!).

You can by all means stop here and consider yourself done, your book is bound after all. But I like things neat (at least in bookbinding, if not in housework) so I'm going to trim my edge.

With the book shut, place your ruler against the cover's edge and, holding the rule very firmly, use your craft knife to trim the excess paper that's peeking out. It's safer to do several lighter, more controlled cuts than to try and cut them all in one stroke.

Ta-dah – we're done! Not so complicated, huh? Now that you know how it works, you can pretty much bind any simple book you like. You can even go on and try 5, 7 even 9 hole stitches – the principal is the same. Feel free to cover the cover in stickers, fill it with Winnie-the-Pooh fan fiction, whatever floats your boat.

Huge thanks Louise, this is simple and utterly brilliant and I shall be doing this. 

These little notebooks would make stupendous stocking fillers and very obligingly Louise has some perfect little notebook-making and even 2016 journal-making kits in her etsy shop with everything you need- the kits themselves would make ace presents too I reckon. 

Click here or here if you fancy a kit from Louise's lovely little paper-filled shop. Oh and super duper lovely news! - she's offering my blog readers 10% off with the code SILVERPEBBLE10- enter it at the checkout to bag a lovely bargain.

NB. This is not a sponsored post. I simply think Louise's work is beautiful and her skills manifold (see what I did there)