Friday 30 December 2016

Christmas Cracker Swap 2016

I took part in Mad About Bags Christmas Cracker swap again this year and was partnered with the lovely Glenda from New Zealand (she doesn't have a blog, so this post is for both of us.)  I have taken part in this swap for a few years now and it is always fun to see what you can fit inside a kitchen roll inner!
Glenda and I chatted via email and found out a bit about each others' likes and dislikes and then got going.  Our swaps arrived safely and we decided to wait until Christmas Day before opening them.
Glenda's parcel was wrapped in cheery red and white stripes, with some gorgeous ribbon bunting holding it all together.  
There was so much inside - it was really exciting!
 She had filled a pocket folder with all kinds of goodies - nail files, a bookmark, tags, Christmas sayings, sequins and a tape measure.  As well as all that, there were some sweets and chocolates from New Zealand and a hand knitted dishcloth, a snow globe bottle stopper, a tissue paper flower decoration and a kiwi bird keyring!  Wow!  A BIG thank you to Glenda for her kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity in putting these lovely gifts together.
 Here are my parcels ready to go into their brown paper wrapping.  I had bought some things that wouldn't fit into the cracker, so wrapped them separately.
I sent a ball of Shetland wool from a Lincolnshire flock, some stationery, some UK sweets, washi tape, a polymer clay decoration (made using a Blockwallah stamp), a felt heart, some pearl earrings, a bracelet and some embroidery thread.
Thanks to Tracy for organising the swap and to Glenda for being such a great swap partner.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas

(photo of a cherub from a church in Rutland - post can be found here)
Merry Christmas to all blog readers and commenters out there.  I hope that you have a lovely and peaceful time.

With all the sad and awful things still happening in the world, I am reminded of part one of my favourite Christmas carols,"It came upon the midnight clear" written by Edmund Sears in 1849 (thanks to Wikipedia).

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing."

The other thing in my head now is part of the Desiderata ("Desiderata" (Latin: "desired things") is a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann - with thanks to Wikipedia again).

"...And whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

Good advice to us all in this Christmas season and beyond.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Experimenting again

I have been making some tentative experiments using distress inks (watercolour ink pads) and some pre-printed designs which resist the colour.  I used some blending sponges to apply the colour and I am pleased with my first attempts.  
I think this was my favourite one, which was the last one I did and I was a bit more confident with the technique.  I like the way the colours blend so easily with each other to create other colours.  I have also bought some watercolour brush pens so am looking forward to highlighting patterns and seeing what that looks like.
I have also bought some water based lino printing inks and am hoping to start printing again (I have done a bit of lino printing over the years, for A level Art and Craft and for my Foundation course in Art and Design and I really enjoyed it).  I was inspired by a book, 'Block Print' by Andrea Lauren, which Chris bought and which shows many different printing ideas, including lino and using wooden stamps. I am going to start with making backgrounds for my wooden blocks (I have a Blockwallah birch tree block I am going to use) and see how I get on, then move on to more complex designs...well, that's the plan, anyway.
I just need to get rid of a cold which Chris has given me (thanks for sharing), and then it will be all systems go.

Sunday 11 December 2016

The cat sat on the mat

One of our two purchases at the craft fair held at Gainsborough Old Hall was this rag rug, made from strips of fleece (the other purchase was a Father Christmas decoration for the tree).  Chris and I both liked the colours and pattern and, as we needed a new rug for in front of the fire, this seemed ideal.  It also suits our eclectic mix of furniture and styles.  It is quite supportive to our arthritic knees when we are sorting the fire out and it also got the seal of approval from Scruffy, who decided it was an acceptable replacement for the old rug. (Please note that yet again, Scruffy managed to have his eyes shut in both photos).
The cat sat on the mat?  More like the cat sprawled on the mat!

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Spending the weekend with old friends

Image from:
I have spent a very nice weekend in the company of Rebecca, the second Mrs de Winter and Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.  I watched the black and white film of Rebecca on Saturday afternoon - perfect for this time of year with its atmosphere.  'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again...' Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers does a wonderful job with the psychological torture of poor little Mrs de Winter. I then just had to dig out my old copy of the book and start re-reading it.  It is such an easy book to lose yourself in and to then have to reluctantly come back into the real world again.

I  also watched the BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility (with the cast above, image from on Sunday afternoon, which is my favourite adaptation (so far).  I really enjoyed Emma Thompson's version and braved the cinema to see it, but it does miss out the interview between Elinor and Willoughby when the reader finds out why he left Marianne and what has happened to him since his marriage.  Initially, I wasn't sure about the casting of Dominic Cooper as Willoughby, but the more I have watched it, the more I can see why he was chosen for the role. Hattie Morahan does a wonderful job as Elinor, saying so much with her eyes and expressions. Here's an archived page about this adaptation.

I had seen that contemporary authors were taking part in The Austen Project, where they re-imagine the stories in modern times.  I was extremely unsure about the whole idea - the originals are just so good that they really don't need messing about with, so why develop the project in the first place?  However, I gave in and read the first in the series which was Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. I'm pleased that I hadn't read the reviews about the book before I read it as they are mediocre.  I enjoyed her interpretation and I think she managed to update the story well - especially given that UK society is not so restrictive for women as it was in Regency times.  I also liked Nancy Steele's 'text speak' - she would speak like that if she was around now, wouldn't she?  I think it was quite a difficult thing to even attempt, so the fact that the author has kept to the story and managed to update it reasonably effectively is credit to her.  However, I don't think I shall read any of the other updated versions - the originals are so much better!

Sunday 27 November 2016

Gainsborough Old Hall

 There was a Christmas Craft Fair being held at Gainsborough Old Hall this weekend, so we decided to have a look. It is only the second time I have visited this wonderful building, so I was looking forward to seeing it again. My previous posts about my visit can be found here, here and here.
The craft fair admission was much less than the normal house admission, but of course, you didn't get an audio tour and some of the building was closed.  We are going back during the open season next year to have a proper look.  It was very busy, which was good for the stall holders, but it was quite cold in some of the rooms.  After we had looked round, we went for a walk around the building.
 We saw some beautifully worked stone, edging the grass.  I wonder where these pieces came from?
 It is a very photogenic place.
The mini avenue of trees gave a lovely vista.
Through the years, the owners added bits to the original building and I liked the higgledy-piggledy mix here.
 Stone, wood, brick - a variety of different building materials had been used over the years.
 Another lovely view through the trees.
 I seem to remember being surprised that the Hall is in the middle of the town, surrounded by Victorian terraces.  I imagined that a Hall like this would be in its own extensive grounds, which perhaps it once was.
 A row of five chimneys which advertised how wealthy the owners were.  I expect the stall holders would have liked all the fires to be lit today!
I didn't take photos inside, except these two because I was drawn to the bright jewel colours in these windows.
They may become the inspiration for some felt...or polymer clay work...

Sunday 20 November 2016

Austentacious - a great night of comedy

We had a wonderful evening last night when we went to see Austentacious at a local theatre.  The cast ask the audience to write down a suitably Jane Austen-like title and then they pick one at random and improvise the story. Each performance is different, although based in Regency time.  
We took along a few options: 'Bags and Baggages', 'Baubles, Bonnets and Bennets' and, my favourite, 'Fans and Fantasies'.  'Fans and Fantasies' was the first one picked from the basket and the speaker described it as Jane Austen's autobiographical account of a 'superfan', who became a stalker - not quite what we had in mind when we thought of it!  The second one was 'The White Faced Lady' which was described as Jane Austen's masterpiece about Elizabeth I.  The third was the one they would perform.  It was 'Mansfield Town Women's Football Club'.  I was slightly worried as it was a football based story (I am not a sport lover), but the cast did a wonderful job and at times I was crying with laughter!
The story revolved around a football club and the attempt by a woman (gasp), Miss Mary Pele, to join the said club.  There was also Eloise, Mary's sister, who was the perfect woman and adored by her father, who found a suitable husband in one of the footballers, Mr Charles Groves.  Mr Groves, it turned out, was carrying emotional baggage (which explained a lot) when he eventually revealed that his parents were killed in a freak accident concerning a huge gust of wind and a bag.  The football club was run by Miss Maria Wemmick and Dr Tamworth - Miss Wemmick becoming another player on the Women's football team.  There was also a villain, in the shape of Lord Abramovich, a wealthy Russian, although he was also possibly Scandinavian and then morphed into German, who wanted to support the male team and would stop at nothing to get what he wanted.  There was a happy ending - Lord Abramovich met the same end as Mr Groves' parents , Eloise found true love with Benedict, (Mr Groves' friend and also a footballer), Mary found love with Mr Groves and Dr Tamworth adopted Miss Wemmick as his daughter.
The cast did a fantastic job and judging from the gales of laughter from the audience, we all thoroughly enjoyed the performance.  The UK tour has almost finished now - just Bromsgrove, Lancaster and Kendal to go.  I would recommend this talented group's performance - funny, clever and witty.  If they tour next year, I will definitely go again.  Here's a link to their showreel which gives a taster of what they do.

Saturday 12 November 2016

If at first you don't succeed...

You may remember that I was rather excited about a new to me technique to make faux ceramic using polymer clay and liquid translucent polymer clay.  The photo above is from the faux ceramic pendant tutorial and is what inspired me.  The technique looked reasonably simple and I had the polymer clay, liquid translucent polymer clay and alcohol inks, so off I went.
Hmm, not quite what I wanted, so it was a little disappointing, but I analysed why it had not worked as well as I wanted it to.  Here are my conclusions:
  1. The liquid polymer clay (Sculpey) was too thick to pool properly
  2. I had applied the coloured translucent clay on all the raised areas of the images, not into the recesses, which is what I should have done (if I had looked at the tutorial more carefully in the first place, I would have realised that!)
  3. I had applied the liquid clay using my finger so the application was not very precise
  4. There was a matt finish, rather than a glossy one, although this could have been remedied by applying a glossy glaze
So, I decided to buy some Kato translucent liquid clay as I had seen this used on a different tutorial where it could be heated by a heat gun and gave a look of resin, so I reasoned that it would give more shine.  I also bought some Sculpey clay thinner (just in case I wanted to try again with the Sculpey liquid).  I tried again, using the Kato liquid clay.
Here is the Kato liquid clay with one drop of alcohol ink just sitting on it - the colours looked lovely already, so I felt more positive.
I stamped the patterns into the clay and then cured it. Once slightly cool, I took my time and applied the ink/clay mix into the recesses of the patterns, using a cocktail stick so that I had more control. Once I was happy with them, I cured them again and was pleased with the result - the liquid clay was glossy and did look a bit like a ceramic glaze.  This is a technique I shall return to as I would like to work on an idea using polymer clay and gemstones.
I have also been stamping on polymer clay using my Blockwallah stamps and the results have been great.  I used the StazOn ink, which smells of marzipan when you use it, and which can be used on pretty much any surface.  It worked well on polymer and gave a nice clear impression.  More stamping to come, I think, and I have been looking at some colouring pens which work well on polymer clay, so I think there will be more experimenting to come...

Sunday 6 November 2016

This week, I har bin mostly...( with apologies to Jesse's Diets* from The Fast Show)

...listening to an eclectic mix of music - a bit of Dinah Washington What a difference a day makes, Michael Buble Cry me a river  and Feeling Good  Coldplay Viva La Vida, The Communards You are my world and Harry Belafonte Jump in the Line...

...starting the unexciting but vital job of insulating pots in the garden, particularly important this year as they don't have the added insulation from the wall...

...playing with my die cutting machine and designing simple cards...

...making a bracelet for a birthday present...

...enjoying the autumn colours on the blueberry leaves and some of the hydrangeas...
the cast of The Moonstone - photo from
...watching a new dramatisation of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (perfect for Autumn and available on iplayer for those in the UK).  I enjoyed this dramatisation even though some details were changed (and I'm not quite sure why).  The book is so much better than any dramatisation I have seen and is often cited as the first detective novel.  Of course, I had to read the book again!

...listening to a radio play of the short story 'How the Marquis got his coat back' by Neil Gaiman on Radio 4 (also available on iplayer).  This follows a 'normal' day in the life of the Marquis de Carabas who appeared in Neil Gaiman's book, Neverwhere about life in London below.

*Just in case you are curious, here's an example of Jesse's diets...
It's been a good week!

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Cross media crafting

Well, it had to happen, didn't it?  You knew it would eventually. I said I wouldn't get into card making, but gradually I have been drawn into it in a small way. (In my defence, I have always enjoyed paper crafting.) I am not going to make that many cards (famous last words), and those I do make will be simple, but hopefully elegant. I think I am one of those people who likes to collect crafting equipment, as I certainly have quite a lot of it now, for my various crafts.
I have got lots of stamps, inks, embossing powders, a small and a large die cutting machine, and I have been experimenting with what I can make.
 A 'Delilah Doily' die cut.
 Embossing folders - which give a raised texture to the paper.  I really liked this bubbly one.
 Chris liked the retro feeling of this pattern.
I couldn't resist the animals and birds on this embossing folder.
However, whilst investigating online and watching tutorials and craft channels, I have been discovering that many of the media I have will work with other crafts that I enjoy.  For example, I have Blockwallah woodblocks which can be used on fabric, card and polymer clay, depending what paint or ink you use with them. I am thinking that I need to make some decorations.
I have a heat gun which can be used for embossing powders but I have also found out it can be used on Kato liquid polyclay (this is the only liquid clay which can be heated using a heat gun) to create ceramic effect polymer clay, or enamel effect polymer.
I am going to try both of these effects once my liquid clay arrives.
I also have some ultralight clay which can be put through a die cutting machine once it is dry.  It can also be sculpted and remains flexible once dry, unlike polymer clay.  I haven't tried it out yet, but I need to.  
My jewellery making stash can be used to make jewellery, of course, but I can also use it in felt projects or on decorations with my polymer clay.  
I am feeling very excited about all these possibilities and will share my makes as and when ... roll on my next day at  home!

Sunday 23 October 2016

Colours of Autumn

Over the last few days, I have really noticed the leaf colours starting to change.  The blueberries (this one is Goldtraube) are the first to begin and they usually put on a beautiful show. (You can also see Hydrangea Confetti in the foreground and Hydrangea Annabelle in the background.)
Blueberry Northland is also joining in. 
I enjoy seeing the different shades of red of the leaves.
 Magnolia Susan is turning to a lovely buttery yellow.
Hydrangea Fireworks is also showing its autumn colours, adding pink and green to the white flowers.
This is what the flowers looked like back in the Summer.
Hydrangea Miss Saori is also showing off her autumn colours.
This is what her flowers looked like back in the summer.
It is definitely feeling colder now and I shall have to think about insulating all my pots again.  This is the one time of year I really wish I didn't have quite so many...

Sunday 16 October 2016

Positives and Negatives

It was 'Sew Saturday' yesterday but I decided that I had enough material in my stash and couldn't really justify buying any more, no matter how lovely, so stayed away from the tempting fabric shops. However, to celebrate sewing, here is a photo of my latest make - it's the Sew Me Something Kate dress again (one of my favourites), but I have altered it so that it is without sleeves. I used denim for the dress and added some pretty floral bias binding around the neck and pockets.
I am quite pleased that I managed to alter the pattern to make a dress that I am happy to wear, with leggings and boots or tights and boots.  Previously, the pattern was just too big across the back, so the tops kept falling off my shoulders which I found a bit annoying.  I think I have solved that problem by taking in the pattern on each side.
On the negatives, we haven't been having a good time with electrical and domestic appliances just recently.  Our cooker had to go after many years of service and then the blender packed in, then the CD/radio we had in the kitchen stopped working properly and tonight, my old and much loved and used computer (Windows 2003 - almost an antique now, but a real workhorse) has decided not to switch on at all, no matter how many times we changed the fuse or checked the electricity flow.  I think I have kept various copies of things on memory sticks and/or discs/disks, but I didn't keep a record of exactly what was on there... *Sigh*

Thursday 6 October 2016

October colour in the garden

 The garden is changing now but is having a last hurrah before Autumn really gets going.  Rose Frilly Cuff is flowering again.
 This small and dainty Japanese anemone Bowles' Pink has been in flower for weeks.
 Rose Ferdinand Pichard is also flowering again - the first time he has repeat flowered.
 Aster September Ruby (I think) is almost fluorescent and does not want to be ignored.
 Helianthus Lemon Queen is adding a bright sunshine yellow.
 Aster Ericoides has delicate, small pale lilac flowers which are loved by bees.
 A miscanthus adds an elegant stateliness and moved beautifully in the wind.
 Aster Little Carlow is reliable and lovely.  Once the flowers have been visited by the bees, the centre turns red.
 Dahlia Merkii, looking a bit bedraggled.
 Hydrangea Confetti, which was a new plant this year and has done really well.
 Cyclamen Hederifolium with beautiful marbled leaves.
 An unnamed fuchsia which has flowered non-stop all summer and is still going strong.
I found this skeletonised leaf which had got caught on a box bush and thought it was beautiful.  There is still lots to enjoy in the garden.

Wall update: we agreed on a fence and got in touch with the builder, but he has not responded, which is really disappointing.  We are going to get another company to give us a quote...