Saturday, 28 February 2015

The solace of wool

Recent weeks have been a blur. The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon launched on 29th January and I found myself running four social media channels at once to help to spread the word about it. I was receiving hundreds of messages a day. Pictures of readers' wonderful versions of Florence's floral moustaches, Jodie's jaunty guinea pigs, Lucy's Spring posy brooch, Jenny's mice, Lauren's beards and so many other handmade wonders started being posted on my various timelines. It was an utter joy, although I began to be aware of the sheer size of the project and at times felt quite startled.

Readers' guinea pigs

There was a slight flaw in the distribution plan - we only had enough sponsorship to stock around a third of all Sainsbury's branches so many people have been struggling to find themselves a copy. Just before half term the clamour for help in tracking down the magazine reached fever pitch on facebook. It's very rare that this lovely handmade area of the internet contains negativity but I was surprised to experience some over there. Actually quite a lot of it. I was rather ill-prepared, but the Mollie Makes team helped enormously by publishing a list of stores that are stocking it and I became adept at apologising.

I have to confess that on the evening of Thursday 12th February I did a fair bit of snotty crying as a cumulative result of the ruder messages I'd received. Then Mr M called a halt. He wrapped me in quilts. handed me a large vase of wine and said 'Tell them it's you running the social media. Remove the anonymity, then they might stop.' A couple of friends advised the same.

In the midst of the furore I received a squashy parcel. I wondered what I might have ordered from Etsy as bleary 2am antidote-to-facebook-trickiness retail therapy. I spied some tissue paper and experienced a bubble of excitement. It was from dear Lesley of Moogsmum. It was a skein of wool in the colours of a Cornish rock pool- the colours of sealglass and sea lettuce and pebbles and those intriguing azure deep lagoon-ish pools that might contain a starfish or a really big crab. The colours of relaxation and cheeriness for me. I did a bit more crying, which may sound tragic but I was quite tired. Lesley, you're wonderful. I might be wrong but I'm pretty sure you spun this wool yourself. Thankyou for this beautiful woolly treat. It was more welcome than you know. Lesley is off to a handmade fair with her lovely wares today. I hope it goes brilliantly for her.

I have learned a phenomenal amount from this experience - how a magazine is made and distributed, how an editorial team works and the astonishing talent and kindness of the creative community. Sadly though it has also taught me that some people post comments on social media without a thought. If they're disgruntled then they feel bad manners are justified. It's a well-discussed theme but I think the anonymity and apparent distance afforded by a social media website and a piece of technology is not always a good thing. I feel certain that their words would not have been so harsh if these people had been sitting in front of me. It has made me a tougher, more cynical person.

It has also made me immensely grateful for this particular corner of the internet, right here. The place where in 2005 a few crafters began to share what they had made and a community began to form. A place where we could find like-minded people who, like me, would rather cast on some mittens or raid their bead stash than hoover behind the sofa. If people weren't so keen on what they saw they clicked away. Rude comments were almost non-existent. People were respectful, encouraging, positive and real friendships were made. It was a truly excellent place-a place that I came to in 2008 and that gently but consistently egged me on to make more things. It gave me the confidence to turn my jewellery-making and creativity into a small business despite having no arts qualifications whatsoever. Thankyou.

If you buy the magazine we've made and make something from it or simply find a page that makes you happy it would be so lovely if you could blog about it. It really would help enormously. There are two weeks left to buy it. As I mentioned, it's only in around a third of Sainsbury's stores. 

The guaranteed £5 donation from the sale of just one copy of The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon can buy two malaria nets and save two lives. 

Edited to add: dear dear Jodie Carleton who worked tirelessly to perfect the designs for Ron and Audrey the guinea pigs and is a bona fide handmade hero, as are all our designers, posted this about what happened on facebook. She received a lot of messages too. This woman lives in Australia. What I wouldn't give for a beer and a cuddle with her right now.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Comfort cake

Winter is still with us. Today the skies are like slate here in the Fens. It's a day to hunker down, and consider a spot of comfort baking with the wireless on whilst wearing jimjams and woollens. About a year ago there was a day like this. I was experimenting with gluten-free recipes and the weather was just as dreary. I was determined to try to conjure a cake that was like a sort of appley duvet for the gob. I think I managed it. The recipe is over on Standard Issue as part of my Making Winter column

It's a mish mash of Dorset apple cake, several deliciously dense almondy citrus cakes I've eaten, there's a nod to Nigella's lemon polenta cake and a dash of Rebecca/Lydia's apple cake in there.Either GF plain flour or standard can be used.

I prescribe snuggling under a blanket or quilt and eating massive chunks of this warm with a spoon x

PS If you like my article a quick recommendy click would really help to get this magazine up and running. Thankyou x

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon

It's April 2013.The excitement of the Red Nose Day Dolls project has died down and I've just about got my head around the astonishingly ace total (£4200) Ros Badger, 22 designers and I managed to raise for brilliant causes through the love of handmade. Then Jodie, (RND doll designer and felt-wrangling genius) and I exchange a few emails. 'PDFs' she writes. 'Downloadable PDFs of patterns are what we need next time'. 'Yes!' I reply, 'that way everyone can join in'.

The idea rumbled and simmered. I wondered if we could make a whole magazine full of patterns for Comic Relief. Last May I emailed Jane Toft, She co-invented Mollie Makes and won a Big Fancy Prize in 2013 for being its brilliant editor-in-chief. Sometimes we tweeted eachother about Giorgio Locatelli. She answered my email and we met in a cafe in Bath. She agreed to help to try and make the plan a reality. I was so thrilled by her enthusiasm for it. She didn't tell me I was barking, which was very kind. She pitched the idea to the Mollie Makes team in September. They said yes. We told the Comic Relief team. They did an excited dance. We were off.

Ron and Audrey the felt guinea pigs are designed by Jodie 

On Thursday the magazine we have made will be on sale in Sainsbury's. It will also be on iTunes and Google Play (this may take a day or two extra to happen).

We nearly didn't manage it, several times. Securing sponsorship to fund the at-cost printing and distribution was, ahem, tricky. At 1.30am on Tuesday 6th January I was proof reading patterns and wondering what the foof I was doing. I may have strayed into the realms of overexhausted lunacy and done a bit of crying. Jane did the work of four members of an editorial team. She missed college field trips so we could meet the print deadline. My hair has been utterly terrifying for five months. I think there's a weasel living in it. I'm certain my children want to throw my laptop down the toilet.

Liberty floral French knickers by lovely Lynda Lewis from last year's Great British Sewing Bee

The magazine is called The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon and has over 50 patterns, tutorials and ideas including felt guinea pigs, bacon and egg wristwarmers, crochet red noses, dancing felt chickens, foldable doodle books, knitted beards, Liberty floral moustaches, fancy handmade pants, craft-themed DIY crockery and a cross stitch Mexican wrestler guinea pig.

I cooked up a necklace tutorial (below) and Monica helped me to bring my first crochet pattern to life - crocus wristwarmers in the mosaic above.

If you fancy giving £5 to Comic Relief and bagging a collection of gorgeous original patterns and tutorials into the bargain then pop off to Sainsbury's or your nearest internet (I'll post the link to the digital version here as soon as it's available) on Thursday and bag yourself a copy.

The cover price is £7.99 and £5 from each magazine sale goes straight to CR to help people leading incredibly tough lives in the UK and Africa.

Illustration from The Big Comic Relief Crafternoon by Emma Carlisle

I've written a full guide to running a craft fair in the magazine. It would be wonderful if people used ours or their favourite well-hooked and stitched patterns to make some lovely things to sell at a fair. Sometimes tiny fairs are the loveliest - I've bought some beautiful items from friends' coffee tables whilst being plied with wine and cake. If you plan to meet up with other makers, knit/crochet/sew some ace woolly or fabric gear and sell it to raise a some handmade pennies before the Big Day on March 13th then the donation page for our project is here.

Here's a blog button if you'd like to grab it and spread the word:

I may need a little lie down now.

Many many people have given their time for free to make this magazine and the films that go with it. In random order: Kerry Lawrence, Kate de Quidt, photographers Alun Callender and Shane Rumsey, Nina CamachoBarley MasseyLara Watson, illustrators Emma Carlisle and Rebecca CobbTrevor WittEvie FranksEmma Freud, Iain Russell, Anne-Cecile Berthier, ace pattern tester Lesley Moogsmum and our wonderful designers: FlorenceHaafnerClareLaurenLucy, Moose AllainJamieOh no Rachio! TifTaniaMarnaMessylaLyndaMonicaZoeManda,  Pygmy CloudJennyTwinkie,  Gretel, and of course, Jodie. I hope I haven't missed anyone off this list.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Necklace of Raindrops

Sheesh, my blogging is horribly sporadic just now and has been for so many months that I wouldn't blame regular visitors for scarpering altogether. Tumbleweeds don't make for very entertaining reading. Assuming there are a few remaining stoic readers who still visit here I'm waving guiltily and offering a chocolatey sorry biscuit. 

An article I wrote about Joan Aiken's collection of magical children's stories 'A Necklace of Raindrops' has been published over on the brilliant women's magazine Standard Issue. This is a very significant book for me. The necklace in question influences the weather, saves a country from drought and I wanted one like it so very badly that it inspired me to begin making jewellery at a young age. That overwhelming urge to recreate the necklace in Aiken's story would eventually transform into my day job and I write about what happened when I introduced the book to my daughters.

You can read about it here. If you like what you read on Standard Issue a quick click of the recommend button at the bottom of our articles would help the team who make this very new online magazine to know whether we're producing material that people enjoy reading. It would help so much. Thankyou.

Tomorrow I'll be back to explain what has stolen my time away from blogging. It will be appearing on the shelves of Sainsbury's (!) this very Thursday. It has been thrilling and exhausting and there's a link to it in my sidebar....

Thursday, 8 January 2015

In search of flowers

I'd popped over to read Sue's latest post at The Quince Tree a day or two ago to read about her strategies for surviving January. It's not surprising that many of us need a plan of action. It's often the month that has the lowest levels of illuminance/sunlight (measured in lux). The sun's rays are obscured by thick cloud for much of the coming weeks which has a direct effect on seratonin levels. This is why I ran the Making Winter project in the winter of 2011/2012.

Despite this I find that I feel hopeful at this time of year. I have to confess that I'm not Christmas's number one fan and when January arrives I feel refreshed and immediately begin to look forward to Spring. There's no doubt that it's a dreary month, weather-wise. In fact for much of today the cloud was so thick that there was little more than twilight here on the edge of the Fens, but mentally I'm looking beyond winter towards the lighter days. 

Yesterday I had a strong urge to find some flowers. I'd spotted that my winter sweet was in bloom. This is a waxy, almost unearthly flower with a heady smell that seems to combine jasmine and hyacinth. It's a welcome treat just after Christmas and I often forget about it until it opens its strange buds. I'd also spotted a kind of cherry/prunus flowering next to a scout hut in Fordham. I decided to go on a flower hunt. I was prepared to cheat if neccessary (there are two garden centres in Fordham).

Things began well. I found a self-seeded viola in a pot outside the front door, saw that my white viburnum was sporting some very Spring-like white blossom and my winter flowering jasmine was studded with tiny yellow flowers. I now have to confess that I snipped one or two small twigs of a scented pink viburnum that was covered in blossom but looking straggly and unwanted on some wasteground near here. I also burgled a little of the prunus from near the scout hut. I now feel slightly guilty about this. My violas, tete-a-tete and cyclamen came from the garden centre. 

Together these tiny flowers satisfied my floral craving and once I'd bunged them in jars it looked for all the world like Spring on our dining room table. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Damson jam crochet wristwarmers (free pattern)

My resolve to blog between Autumn and Christmas was impossible to fulfil sadly. Commissions, poorly daughters (seven weeks' worth of poorly!), writing for the wonderful Standard Issue Magazine and the Big Comic Relief Project meant it was perpetually shunted to the bottom of the priority list. Evening would come and we were mopping brows or staring exhaustedly into the middle distance.

I can't reveal the full story about the Comic Relief plan. It's hugely exciting and I can tell all on the 9th January but essentially I have been working with a truly fantastic and kind group of people to make a craft magazine filled with tutorials and patterns from hugely talented designers and bloggers. I'm bursting with the details but I have to keep a crafty lid on it for secret squirrel-ish reasons. If you're on Facebook it's here. Above is a picture of Ron and Audrey the felt guinea pigs, the patterns for whom will be in the magazine. You may be able to guess who designed them.

I wrote about an alternative handmade Christmas in Standard Issue several weeks ago along with a tale of a pair of wristwarmers I'd crocheted using Mrs Moon 'Plump' yarn. I made up the pattern (I'm fairly gobsmacked about this development). It's only the second crochet pattern I've written -more about the first very soon- and I promised readers I'd send it to them. Failure number 2. I'd half written it and then another cough reared its head, requiring Florence Nightingale action. The pattern was a shameful UFO until today. 

I discovered Mrs Moon Plump at Yarndale. Yes, I visited Yarndale as part of a craft retreat weekend organised by The Coffee Lady, and accompanied by Monica, Tess and Ali. We met Lucy. I have blogged none of this. For shame. 

Each skein in this yarn range* is like a jewel-like, baby rabbit-soft long sausage of woolly joy. It's chunky. I love chunky yarn-crocheted things grow so quickly that it makes me feel yarnily accomplished (far from true). The wristwarmers are crocheted in 'damson jam' -  a perfect name for such a rich, delicious colour. They also make me think of damson gin. Ahem. 

The pattern is below. It's an apology and a thankyou to those who still read my blog. Massive thanks to Monica who has helped me to translate my hooky doings into readable patterns recently, with her astonishing knowledge, skill and patience.

Hello and Happy New Year! 

Thankyou for clicking over here despite my erratic and infrequent posts. x

Damson gin crocheted wristwarmers

You will need:

1 skein of Mrs Moon 'Plump' yarn in damson jam.
10 mm crochet hook
Yarn needle

With 10mm hook: 16 foundation ch, join to work in the round making sure you don’t twist the chain. 

Row 1 1ch (count as a dc), *tr in 1st st, dc in next st* repeat to the end, sl st to top of initial chain to join

Row 2 2 ch (count as a tr) *dc in 1st st, tr in next st*, repeat to the end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Rows 3-10 Repeat rows 1 and 2 (8 more times)

Row 11, 1ch, 2tr in first stitch, continue with pattern (alternating tr and dc) for 3st, 2 tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st, 2tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st, 2tr in the next st, continue with pattern for 3st,  sl st to top of chain to join – 20sts (4st increased)

Row 12 2ch, beginning with a dc work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Row 13 1ch , beginning with a tr work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of chain to join

Row 14 2ch, work in pattern for 3st, 2ch, skip 6sts, tr st on 10th st, continue to work in pattern to end, join with sl st to top of 2 chain to join. (16 working sts)

Row 15 1ch, beginning with a dc work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of chain to join (treat the 4ch that have created the thumb hole as regular st to work into)

Row 16 2ch, beginning with a tr work in pattern (alternating dc and tr) to end, sl st to top of 2 chain to join

Row 17 Repeat row 15, sl st to top of  chain to join 

Weave in ends

Revel in the floofy hand joy.

*This is not a sponsored post, I haven't even received any free yarn, I'm simply very excited about Plump as it's truly gorgeous.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Baby it's cold outside

I've written about my experience of baby groups over on Standard Issue magazine. So many postnatal groups are wonderful - nurturing, helpful and a source of friends. I didn't quite find that though. In the two groups I attended there was a peculiar atmosphere of oneupmumship. Pop over for a read here if you fancy it.

If you like my article it would be super lovely if you could click 'recommend' at the bottom. Thankyou

I'll be back next week to announce the details of my crafty plan for Comic Relief 2015.